This past January, I was encouraged that after seven years in office Governor Christie announced a plan to address New Jersey’s opioid/heroin epidemic. However, over the last six months, my encouragement dissolved into disappointment due to what I believe is a lack of tangibility, organization, and his overdue response regarding the implementation of a program.
I understand the governor’s earnestness in wanting to tackle the state’s rampant drug scourge, which claimed 1,600 lives in 2015, led to a 21% rise in deaths that same year, and continues to destroy the lives of the addicts’ loved ones each and every day. Yet, the governor’s last-minute effort to cobble together financing for part of his plan through Horizon’s reserves on the doorstep of the recent government shutdown perplexes me.
I am a retired, proud member of the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office who traveled all around the county last year in a bid to become sheriff as the Republican nominee. Addressing Middlesex County’s increasing opioid and heroin drug crisis was the keystone of my platform, which I called The Pisar Plan.
I passionately delivered my ideas to residents at their doorsteps, at street fairs, and while marching in parades. I also shared my strategies with the people most intimate with the opioid/heroin problem- the recovering addicts. In fact, last week I attended a meeting of the Center for Network Therapy in Middlesex Borough, where many of the attendees in recovery shared their dismay at the lack of intervention and assistance being offered by our legislators.
The majority of those struggling with addiction, who I’ve spoken with over the past several years, have said that they can’t get into state-subsidized treatment programs due to a lack of space, overabundant waiting lists, and the state’s failure to address both problems. The governor’s “new” plan falls short here as well.
We need to increase the number of rehab facilities, as well as improve the ones that are currently inadequate. At best, many of our existing centers serve as a revolving door for those addicted to drugs where they find themselves caught in a seemingly never-ending cycle of addiction, crime, detox, and addiction once more.
There are many shuttered buildings and businesses throughout New Jersey, including properties “operated” by the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders. My plan takes into consideration the high volume of people needing help by localizing and increasing rehab facilities from High Point all the way down to Cape May. The key is cooperation, consideration, and compassion. This also includes coordination with our region’s law enforcement partners.
Police need our support as they continue to hit the drug problem at its root. I call the second component of The Pisar Plan, my Aggressive Apprehension Action strategy. This tactic enables officers more opportunity and leeway to create strategic task forces that would locate, arrest, and get the “major” drug dealers off the streets.
The last point I want to make pertains Governor Christie’s REACH-NJ hotline. When I began my own grassroots campaign to address the drug crisis back in the summer of 2015, I faxed over my ideas to the governor’s office in an effort to gain help and support for my crusade. While some of the strategies from The Pisar Plan are contained in the governor’s approach, there are some drastic differences.
Governor Christie’s “outreach” plan is merely a phone bank, website, and ingratiating public relations campaign neatly wrapped up in a Band-Aid. With countless people dying from opioid and heroin overdoses at critical mass, the best approach is to personalize education in more intimate settings, not over the Internet or telephone.
Now that the state’s budget battle is over, and it is six months since Governor Christie unveiled his plan in Trenton, I encourage him to do the right thing and consider the many great ideas offered by his fellow citizens, including the many dedicated people in recovery who are also working tirelessly to help others who are struggling.
We can still act to save lives, but if we don’t act quickly enough, time will only lead to more struggle, sorrow, and death.
*The basic components of The Pisar Plan include the following:
1. Partnerships, Coordination and Cooperation- Strategic, consistent engagement with medical professionals, pharmacists, law enforcement, educators, legislators, community leaders and counselors to better understand their needs, viewpoints and services they provide related to drug abuse mitigation. Another important partnership will involve former drug users who are in long-term recovery. These individuals need a seat at this table because they bring an incredible perspective.
2. Aggressive Apprehension Action- Creating special task forces comprised of members of the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office (internal units and potential units to assist external law enforcement entities as needed). Strategically address the criminality associated with illegal drugs and strategically attack the root(s) of the problem, i.e., locate, arrest, gather new intelligence and help convict serial drug dealers/suppliers, etc.
3. Tweaking the Treatment Plan- Augmenting drug treatment programs for those who complete their initial 30-day rehabilitation/detoxification by providing added support, housing and monitoring for an additional 30 days. This can greatly assist those in recovery as they learn strategies and skills as they learn to re-assimilate back into the community. Work with local companies, staffing agencies and job placement/education to assist those in long-term recovery obtain employment opportunities.
4. Drug Addiction Education: From the Child, to the Adult, to the Community- Multi-layered education for different groups within the community – provide students in the schools with important lessons about the dangers of drugs; educate parents so that they may be able to detect potential use/abuse by their children; engage in consistent discussions with community groups, leaders, and officials.
5. Shutting Down the Drug Addict’s Revolving Door to Nowhere- Legislators and officials need to re-think the drug abuse dilemma. Locking up those convicted of low-level drug crimes doesn’t solve the problem. Many of the low-level drug offenders get caught in the revolving door of drug use, arrest, court and incarceration only to find themselves trapped in the cycle.