New Jersey is doing this heroin thing all wrong and we have skyrocketing death-rates prove it.
We covered all that in “WTF HEROIN?! Pt 1.”
There’s much to lament, including our government’s paralysis moving beyond lip service to this crisis. Today we’ll focus on a few causes for optimism that we might soon turn a corner and actually confront NJ’s yawning heroin/opiate crisis.
(And for what it’s worth, we’re still digestions Chris Christie’s heroin soliloquy from earlier this week. We’ll have more on that [Top 10 list maybe?] next week.)
Ready? Let’s start in Ocean County, the epicenter of NJ’s crisis.
A Friend in Congress
Rep. Tom MacArthur was recently appointed co-chair of the Bipartisan (congressional) Task Force to Combat the heroin epidemic.That’s a big deal. And given TMac’s Ocean County-centric district, his leadership is especially critical.
“New Jersey’s heroin overdose rate is triple the soaring U.S. rate, and we have to do everything we can to fight this epidemic together in a meaningful, bipartisan way,” TMac said at the time, candidly.
But here’s the rub with Congressman MacArthur; that same (Obamacare) law that extended drug rehab coverage for 300,000 NJ residents though Medicaid? TMac voted four dozen times to repeal that. So as he looks around the GOP caucus and sees his colleagues frothing at the mouth to repeal the Obamacare, I hope TMac remembers that—ahem—addiction to opiates is a preexisting condition.
There will always be politicians whose donors come first. There will always be unpopular politicians who use sympathetic causes to rehabilitate their image. That’s what NJ gets with Governor Christie and Assemblyman Conaway, as noted in Part 1.
But TMac is the type who, the more he learns, the better he’ll do. I made it my business to get to know him & his staff and have pressed them on this issue to the point they might think I’m a stalker.
It’s because I have high hopes he’ll lead boldly.
And If I’m wrong (to be optimistic) about Congressman Tom MacArthur’s emergence as a leader in this issue, then God help addicts (and their families) in this state.
Whether you take your news via radio, online or in print, you’ve probably noticed most NJ media folk are well-tuned to the gravity of our state’s voracious appetite for opiates like heroin and Oxycontin.
Take Bill Spadea. Here you’ve got a very conservative radio guy who gives his listeners what they crave: right-wing banter about sports, entertainment, and politics. But if you tune into Bill’s show, chances you’ll hear him compassionately discussing our state’s heroin crisis in a wide-eyed manner pretty much every day. He did so yesterday. And again today. If you missed it, no problem! Turn in tomorrow and listen for yourself!
If you’ve watch (local) FOX, you might know Bill also hosts a newsy late night show called Chasing Jersey. This show actually has a de facto heroin correspondent named Rohan Mohanty whose recent body of work is heavily dedicated to combating the heroin crisis: prevention, intervention, harm-reduction, treatment, and sadly too many funerals.
(Ironically, Chris Christie, the man in change while this crisis exploded, has called out Bill and Chasing Jersey by name accusing them of being amateurish and motivated solely by ambition. Can you imagine?! #TheMindReels)
NJ Spotlight is another news site whose heroin reportage stands out. The folks there serve up wonky, serious stuff about government, health, and politics. Lilo Stainton wisely insinuates difficult topics (like needle exchange) into the discussion. Why? Presumably because data prove (REPEATEDLY) that limiting the harm addicts do to themselves while using GREATLY improves the odds for recovery.
“Syringe-exchange programs reduce blood-borne diseases like HIV and Hep-C, but to be truly effective they must reach a larger community,” reads the lede on one (of many) needle exchange pieces she’s penned.
Until we can talk (like grownups) about (grownup) things like needle exchange, we don’t stand a chance against the opiate menace. Cherry picking the palatable bits only perpetuates the current vicious cycle that killed 1,587 of our neighbors last year alone. Our friends in the media like Lilo Stanton, Bill Spadea, and Rohan Mohanty have proven their commitment to fighting heroin abuse.
Smart policymakers will listen to them and especially to NJ.com’s Stephen Stirling who authored “Herointown, New Jersey,” the Magnum Opus of journalism on this topic:
What would happen if you took everyone who is addicted to heroin in New Jersey and sent them to live in one place? It would be the state’s fourth largest city, boasting a population of at least 128,000. Its residents are diverse enough that the town would be self-sufficient—with lawyers, politicians, construction workers, teachers and scientists walking the streets. And you will know one of them. In fact, social network analysis suggests you likely will know several city residents, whether they toil at a desk behind you or sleep in a bed down the hall. This city exists all across New Jersey, where heroin and opioid addiction have exploded in the past 10 years, killing more than 5,000 people and enslaving hundreds of thousands more. It’s not a new story, but one whose tendrils reach far deeper into the Garden State than most know.
And when you’re done let’s get to work.
Jay Lassiter is a long-time New Jersey political gadfly. Before arriving in the Garden State, Jay spent 28 days in drug rehab back in 2003 (for meth) and saw first hand how traumatic getting off heroin can be. Compared to heroin, meth detox is like trip to the spa. More people should know that.