PATERSON, NJ - What was billed as a press conference to announce a new effort to combat the scourge of opioid addiction in Paterson took on a much more familial tone recently, a nod perhaps to the immense impact the epidemic has had in homes across the nation.

Following an event just a few weeks earlier, the gathering in Mayor Andre Sayegh’s office served to further promote the partnership between the New Jersey Reentry Corporation, a non-profit agency aimed at helping citizens returning from incarceration live productive lives, and Care Plus New Jersey, a non-profit provider comprehensive, recovery-focused integrated primary and mental health care for individuals in the Northern New Jersey area, to provide NJRC clients access to drug addiction treatment.

Through the program NJRC clients will now have access to Medicated Assisted Treatment (MAT), a new effort to help get users offer opioids by prescribing the use of medications, such as suboxone, vivitrol, and methadone that help patients control opioid cravings, while pairing them with counseling to treat substance abuse and overdose. 

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Leading the conversation was Jim McGreevey, who, as Executive Director of the NJRC, shows every bit of compassion for those he serves as he did during his time on the campaign train and in elected office. Deftly weaving bible verses with staggering statistics about drug use and incarceration, including that recently released convicts are 129 times more likely to die from an overdose within their first two weeks of being released from prison than the average American, McGreevey talks of giving everyone second chances, and more when necessary. 

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Through MAT, McGreevey said, patients will stay in the program for 6-12 months, receiving “maintenance therapy” and addiction counseling as needed. It’s not just the addiction treatment though, he stressed, as those assisted by NJRC also receive career counseling, training services, housing referrals, and legal assistance, all necessary “wrap around services” that help individuals become “productive members of society.”

With Sayegh, Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, and Public Safety Director Jerry Speziale, who called the opioid epidemic “the most formidable foe” during his 38 years in law enforcement, all sharing their experiences trying to help lead a community away from its reputation as one where drug users and sellers often reign, it was three individuals that have fought the addiction battle that provided the most poignant comments.

Tinya Alston, Timothy Crawford, and William James shared unfortunately similar stories, all addicted to illegal substances in their teens, all formerly incarcerated, and all, after decades of use and abuse, on a cleaner, more productive path.

For Alston, a mother of five, her family was a support system that, while she wasn’t able to take care of herself helped take care of her children. Now working as a food cutter at Shop Rite Alston is working first and foremost on “taking care of (herself).”

“I’m not in a relationship,” Alston said. “I’m staying away from old people, habits, and places,” that have continually sent her down the wrong path.

Crawford and James, are both in their mid-fifties and both have spent nearly two decades of their time on Earth behind bars. Shot three times when he was 20, Crawford said he got caught up in “playing the game,” something he finally “got tired” of. In 2012 he was facing another sentence of nine and a half years, but opted instead for drug court, during which time, he admitted, he has had one relapse, but is pushing forward, determined to live a cleaner life.

For James the in and out of prison cycle began because he was “living the fast life to make a quick dollar.” His wake up call, he said, finally came in April, 2018, when he was handed a narcan pump on his way out of prison for the sixth time. “We have a problem,” he finally acknowledged. 

“Life became a pattern, it became comfortable,” he said, realizing now that there is “another way to live,” something only made possible by his decision to “change (his) way of thinking.” Now clean for eight months James offered simply that he “didn’t want to die.”

For Sayegh the fight against drugs is a matter of good public policy, a way, he told TAPinto Paterson, to help “write Paterson’s next chapter.”

“We can not be successful as a city if of our people aren’t healthy, if our people are hurting, if our people are addicted,” Sayegh said. “Tinya, Timothy, and William want something more out of their lives, they want to be part of making Paterson better, we owe them the chance to succeed, because when they do, we all succeed.” 

Click here to learn more about the services and support provided by the New Jersey Reentry Corporation.


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