NEWTON, NJ (Sussex County) – U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer Thursday sounded the alarm on the opioid epidemic continuing to impact Northern New Jersey and worsening due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, as well as what vital federal resources and local rehabilitation and treatment programs can help.
In 2020 thus far, there have been more than 2,000 drug-related overdose deaths in New Jersey, including more than 300 deaths in Warren, Sussex, Passaic, and Bergen Counties, according to the Office of New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies (NJ CARES).
The COVID-19 crisis is only making the opioid epidemic worse, with added economic stress, anxiety, and depression brought on by being home alone contributing to an increase in substance and alcohol use, Gottheimer said.
According to a recent survey on the use of drugs and alcohol in recent months, 36% of those surveyed reported an increased use of illicit drugs and 55% reported an increased use in alcohol consumption.
“While we deal with this pandemic, the opioid epidemic is continuing to absolutely devastate families throughout Northern New Jersey and their stories are not being told. Today, we are here at the Center for Prevention’s Recovery Center to sound the alarm that the opioid epidemic is continuing to impact far too many families, and we must continue to fight it,” Gottheimer (NJ-5) said. “Research has shown that economic stress, rising unemployment and the general upheaval we’ve experienced through this pandemic corresponds with rising rates of alcohol and drug use.”
“At the federal level, I’ve been proud to support a robust legislative agenda that gives local municipalities and providers the tools necessary to crack down on the opioid epidemic and help those who need it most. This is the sort of real help that we need. No family in the Fifth District should feel alone in this fight. That’s why we must come together to find ways to protect our children and our families from addiction,” Gottheimer said.
Gottheimer was joined at The Center for Prevention and Counseling in Newton, NJ, by former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey; The Center for Prevention and Counseling’s Executive Director Becky Carlson; Dr. Aakash Shah, MD, of Hackensack University Medical Center and Medical Director at New Jersey Reentry Corp; Robert Carter, Director of Operations at the New Jersey Reentry Corp.; Leanne, a local resident in longtime recovery who works with The Center.
“We are deeply indebted to Congressman Gottheimer and to Beecky Carlson of The Center for their steadfast commitment to addiction treatment and second chances. As a member of the Bipartisan Opioid Task Force in Congress, Congressman Gottheimer has well understood the importance of providing for treatment and best practices in battling against the scourge of addiction. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is a New Jersey issue, for which every suffering family and every addict understands the importance and necessity of treatments,” said former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, Chairman of the Board at New Jersey Reentry Corp.
“Today we were able to see the power of recovery, where people get well and get involved helping others. Our agency was excited to share our thriving Recovery Community Center today as we gathered to hear about the work going on in our county and in our state to help address substance use disorders,” said Becky Carlson, Executive Director of The Center for Prevention & Counseling. “Our amazing staff of 58 people work to bring prevention, treatment and recovery support services to all those in need in Sussex County. Thank you to Congressman Gottheimer for supporting individuals and their families in need of help!”
“As an emergency room doctor, I am reminded daily that there is an opioid epidemic unfolding within this pandemic. Opioid overdose deaths have risen over 20% since the start of the pandemic in our state. Thanks to the leadership of Congressman Gottheimer, places like The Center and New Jersey Reentry Corp. are able to provide my patients with the services and sense of community that they need now more than ever,” said Dr. Aakash Shah, MD, of Hackensack University Medical Center and Medical Director at New Jersey Reentry Corp.
The bipartisan CARES Act, which Gottheimer voted to pass and which was enacted in March, provided $425 million for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to increase access to mental health services in local communities through Community Behavioral Health Clinics, suicide prevention programs, and emergency response investment to target support where it is most needed.
Both versions of the House-passed Heroes Act, which Gottheimer supported, will provide federal grant investment to address substance use during the COVID-19 crisis and authorizes SAMHSA to award investment to support state and local substance-use efforts that need further assistance as a result of the crisis. It provides $8.5 billion for increased mental health and substance abuse services and support, including: investment in the Substance Abuse and Prevention Treatment Block Grant, the Mental Health Services Block Grant, suicide prevention programs, Project AWARE, which supports school-based mental health services for children; and emergency grants to states. The Heroes Act also provides an additional $600 million investment for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics.
Gottheimer also helps lead the bipartisan Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Expansion Act in the House, which will expand access for addiction and mental health treatment through Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs), which provide a comprehensive range of addiction and mental health services to the communities they serve.