So far in 2018, there have been 765 overdose deaths recorded in New Jersey – on average, one every 2 hours, 51 minutes.

Against that backdrop, Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed state budget includes $100 million for addressing the opioid epidemic. In a visit Tuesday to the Trenton Rescue Mission, he and Cabinet members provided additional detail about what Murphy calls an “all-in effort” to deal with the crisis.

  • $56 million would go toward prevention, treatment and recovery, two-thirds of which would expand access to community based outpatient programs.
  • $31 million would be used to address social risk factors that can derail a person’s efforts to remain sober, such as unemployment and homelessness.
  • $13 million would support development of better technology, such as electronic health records, so the state and addiction services providers can better track data and figure out what’s needed and where.

“We have studied this across departments, and we’re putting forward a program that we think has the best chance to crack the back of this epidemic,” Murphy said.

“The funds will also enhance our data infrastructure, which will help us evaluate the efficacy of our efforts in real time and identify hot spots of the epidemic that will inform a targeted, public health approach,” said Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal.

Murphy likened the emphasis on data to the impact that advanced analytics brought to Major League Baseball: “You are seeing us evolve from making decisions based on our gut feeling to Moneyball. Let’s figure out exactly what’s working, what’s not working, in real time.”

Last year, then-Gov. Chris Christie announced he would redirect $200 million in funding to various opioid-related initiatives. Murphy said about $90 million of that has actually been spent and that the balance will not be.

Murphy and Elnahal said portions of that plan could be kept, if they’ve been effective. But Murphy said one aspect won’t be repeated – the advertising campaign that prominently featured the governor.

Murphy, a Democrat who hasn’t been shy about criticizing his Republican predecessor, said it is not personal but that the ads simply aren’t effective.

“Sixty-year-old guys talking to young kids about addiction and the perils of addiction does not work,” Murphy said. “We’re not going to be doing any television programs – with yours truly or frankly at this point with anybody.”

Murphy said he heard some “pretty cool ideas” at a recent National Governors Association meeting about peer-to-peer opportunities, including through social media. Those aren’t currently in the budget plan but could be added later.

“I think if you’re a television production firm, you’re going to be disappointed. Let me start with that. Because that’s not the way we’re going to go,” Murphy said.

Kivvit, the public affairs and communications firm that handled the Reach NJ campaign, announced Tuesday that the campaign won a silver medal for “Best Government/Public Service Campaign” in the “Bulldog Awards.”

Three individual TV ads produced for the Reach TV campaign won other awards earlier. None were the ads that featured Christie.


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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