Opinion: People facing addiction need access to recovery programs, not judgment

Opinion: People facing addiction need access to recovery programs, not judgment

By Rose McNulty  — @rose_mcnulty


In New Jersey, there is no shortage of news stories about the heroin epidemic that this state is facing. Despite the efforts of the state, the problem only grows each year. The biggest obstacle that heroin addicts face is the unavailability and cost of long-term recovery programs.

Although alarming statistics are often in the news, many people still are not able to see just how widespread heroin use is, or how much it is affecting so many people and families around the state. If more people try to understand what addicts go through and offer them support rather than judgment, it could be easier for programs that aim to help people recover.

RELATEDInmates Given Helping Hand in Tackling Challenges of Re-Entering Society

“There’s still this reaction among families of ‘how could this happen?’ Heroin addicts are still viewed as these outliers in society. They’re not,” said Bob Baxter, former director of the needle exchange program in Newark in an interview with NJ Advance Media.

Courtesy of NIDA
Courtesy of NIDA

This is something that is really important because it shows that there is still an inaccurate stereotype that it is easy to notice when someone is suffering from addiction, or that only a certain type of person becomes addicted. This is not true, as addicts can appear to be just as healthy as anyone else. They can have the same jobs as anyone else, and they can be suffering without many others knowing.

A common gateway into heroin use is the seemingly innocent use of prescription drugs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study showed that users of prescription drugs are 40 times more likely to use heroin than others. This shows that anyone could fall victim to addiction.

“Heroin use is increasing rapidly across all demographic groups,” said Thomas Friedan, the director of the CDC in an interview with NJ Advance Media. “In just a decade, the landscape changed … Around one in 50 (heroin-users) may die each year from their addiction.”

As heroin use increases, so do attempts to solve the problem that this state is facing. A step in the right direction was the approval of statewide use of naloxone or Narcan, a drug that reverses opioids to save opioid users from death after an overdose.

RELATED: Advocates Urge Lifting Ban on Welfare Aid for Those Guilty of Drug Distribution

This drug has saved many lives, but it is a sign that the problem is continuing to get worse.

Every time someone is saved by Narcan, they have already overdosed. According to NJ Advance Media, Narcan has been used more than 7,500 times since Christie expanded the program in 2014.

While Narcan is an instant solution to save someone, it does not even begin to address the mental aspect of drug addiction. Effectively beating a drug addiction requires time, patience, and mental healing. Narcan does not help with these issues.

“We saw right away that Narcan was nothing more than finger in the dyke,” Ocean County Prosecutor Joe Coronato said in an interview with NJ Advance Media. “What we realized is that an overdose is not only tragic, it’s an opportunity. If you can get one-on-one with these people you have an opportunity to maybe convince that person to go into rehab.”

Coronato came up with the Recovery Coach Program, also known as Narcan-2. It is a program in Ocean County that connects people who were revived with Narcan after an overdose on heroin or opioids with treatment options as soon as they are stable in emergency rooms.

Although the program is only a few weeks in, NJ Advance Media reports that the program has had about 70 percent of overdose victims agree to participate. It matches overdose victims with recovery coaches who work with them for up to eight weeks to help them down the path to recovery. The goal of the program is to get more people to go to rehab.

This program is proof that most people in recovery from addiction will get help if it is possible. Unfortunately, it is difficult for most people to afford. In New Jersey, it is possible to get extended inpatient care. However, it will often cost around $20,000 or more, unless it is covered by insurance.

This article from NJ.com examines some of the aspects of the heroin epidemic and the struggle of those who are affected, and it includes the difficulties people face when trying to get help. It has been argued that the fastest way to get treatment for heroin addiction in New Jersey is to get arrested because it is very difficult to get in-patient care.

Although there have been steps in the right direction, the lack of affordable and available inpatient care is the most difficult hurdle for people who suffer from heroin addiction to overcome. If this problem will ever be solved, it will be when people stop thinking that instant recovery is possible and when the mental health and long-term recovery of people suffering from addiction is put first.