Prison Reform Group Questions Christie’s State of the State Numbers

Chris Christie

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Alyana Alfaro for Observer

Following New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s state of the state address Tuesday, some are questioning the governor’s claims about the state’s opiate addiction epidemic. Nonprofit prison reform group “Help Not Handcuffs” weighed in on the governor’s numbers Wednesday, saying that Christie did not offer adequate context for the figures he cited in his speech.

Incarceration and drug enforcement policy, they said, should have factored into Christie’s proposals to change the way insurers cover addiction treatment and boost state funding for recovery care.

A statement from the group questioned the figures in Christie’s speech, putting them up against others for the same year.

“The Governor claimed the drug epidemic is “more urgent than any other epidemic” due to 1,600 overdose deaths in 2015 in New Jersey. While tragic, this fact is grossly out of context as in 2009 more than 1,900 people died in New Jersey from diabetes alone. Nationally, 1,300 people die each day from cigarette use.

“This misleading visceral is necessary for the continuation of failed Drug War tactics such as drug criminalization and forced treatment. The Governor’s misleading statistics also ignore the fact that overdoses are counted more than once by the Office of the State Medical Examiner when more than one drug is present in the deceased.”

“The absence of any recognition of the role of drug criminalization in what the Governor refers to as an ‘addiction epidemic’ is alarming, considering that prohibition policy is creating many of the issues he wants to address” said Randy Thompson, the group’s CEO.

Christie challenged Democratic majorities in the General Assembly and State Senate to help pass his proposed changes within thirty days Tuesday. If successful, those bills would require insurers to cover the first six months of inpatient and outpatient drug rehabilitation effect those increases to state funding for drug treatment and limit doctors’ ability to prescribe prescription pain killers.

That focus on healthcare, Thompson said, should come with changes to enforcement policy. The group holds that regulation would do more to prevent overdose deaths than criminalization by removing deadly adulterants like the chemical Fentanyl, and that forced rehabilitation for drug offenders has a poor success rate.

“Governor Christie spoke of removing barriers to treatment. Viewing treatment, as a significant solution is problematic as nearly 40% of people discharged from treatment in NJ, stated that they did not partially achieve their goal and nearly one in four people were still actively using drugs/alcohol at discharge, according to the 2015 NJ Substance Abuse Monitoring System.

“Even more concerning is that drug overdose deaths are the 3 rd leading cause of death inside NJ’s drug rehab programs according to the New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services. Because NJ has the most regressive compulsory drug court system, those people forced into treatment slots, many of which have no interest in treatment, take up space while those who want treatment are turned away.”

Prison Reform Group Questions Christie’s State of the State Numbers