Had a great conversation with New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno this morning during her visit to NJ 101.5. She had originally been scheduled to come on my show as she’s done several times before, to discuss the NJ job market and the jobs that have been created over the past year in the private sector. The challenge was that I had started the morning off talking about heroin in Jersey, specifically reacting to Governor Christie’s comments yesterday about how many lives Narcan has saved over the past year and a half. Anytime you bring up addiction, specifically the growing heroin epidemic, the phones get flooded with calls from concerned parents, former addicts and friends of people who have fallen victim to the drug. Gotta give the LG credit, she rolled with the new topic immediately and was helpful to several callers calling about the red tape at our state clinics preventing some people from getting the help they need when they need it. Obviously we weren’t going to solve the heroin problem in a couple hours on the radio but as she pointed out, keeping the conversation going is critical as we work toward solutions.
The first thing that came to mind for me was the number 11,000. This is the amount of times Narcan has been used to stop an addict from dying during an overdose since 2014 according to Governor Christie. What I thought was missing during the Governor’s press conference on the subject was the number behind the number. How many people overdose several times and require multiple doses of Narcan … sometimes even in the same day? If we’re going to solve the problem in New Jersey and the rest of the nation for that matter, we’ve got to start by addressing three things:
1. Focus on complete weaning during the rehab experience: Enable treatment clinics to keep patients through the process of detoxing and weaning off of the drug so that by the time they are released they are drug free and less likely to have a relapse. According to several experts in the field, including former addict Daniel Regan who has spent time with me on NJ 101.5 and Chasing News, the current process is to get people off heroin with a replacement prescription which gets them off heroin only while they’re at rehab. This is potentially counter productive and doesn’t solve the overall addiction, physical and mental and given the high rate of relapse is doing very little to curb the cravings. Some have the success rate of rehab at 30%, which mean 7 out of ten relapse back to the addiction.
2. Increase Accessibility to Clinics: On top of the poor success rate of 30%, there are reports that 90% of the people that need help aren’t able to get into the clinics that will help them. This was clearly a theme reinforced throughout the morning from callers into the show. I’ve spoken to numerous parents during several broadcasts who discuss having to give their addict children alcohol in order to gain access to the clinic. One father today discussed having his child take another heroin dose in order to get admittance to a clinic. There are simply too many of these stories being told by suffering families for there not to be a problem getting people into treatment.
3. Redirect Resources to empower families of recovering addicts: The treatment and follow up for addicts after treatment is critical. Many families have no idea how to deal with a family member who is suffering and craving another fix. Although this will start by changing the treatment, using resources currently distributed to law enforcement to help addicts and their families may be better placed. There’s nothing wrong with training thousands of first responders to handle emergency situations and save someone from dying. That said, there’s such a huge chance that the same person will need to be treated again, oftentimes in the same day week or month that clearly the system is too little, too late.
Obviously it’s a complex problem requiring a complex solution. Short term we need to ensure that if someone is given a state funded Narcan dose, there is a way for the state to force a stay at a rehab center. Additionally, the worst of the detox process needs to happen under supervision of professionals at the rehab center and not at home. Longer term solution have got to include creating opportunity for young people to find meaning in their lives as productive members of society and families. LG Kim Guadagno spoke at length about this as well as clearing up red tape to empower families to get their kids the help they need.
She also asked for contact information from several callers in order to follow up personally to get input from families on how to help fix a clearly broken system in New Jersey.
Perhaps the longest term fix is a fundamental change in our society teaching kids better coping skills at young ages. Our society does a horrible job in the ‘everybody wins’ culture teaching people how to handle adversity and overcome obstacles. The quick fix of drugs and alcohol are too accessible and easy for young people to get a hold of and start down a dangerous path to self destruction.