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NJ heroin addict starting over with help from reentry program

National Recovery Month Announcement
Governor Chris Christie, Former Governor Jim McGreevey and Ocean County recovery client Rich Wilder, participate in a National Recovery Month press conference at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. (Governor’s Office/Tim Larsen)

Hooked on heroin as a teenager, Ocean County resident Rich Wilder spent years in and out of prison. He did “whatever it took,” including criminal activity, to get money to supply his habit.

Today, Wilder is more than two years clean, working a job that offers benefits and a promising career.

“I’m being productive and it feels good, and I have a lot of hope for the future, and I never had that before,” said Wilder, serving as proof that addiction can be beaten with the right recipe of will power and treatment.

Woodhaven Lumber in Ocean County has hired Wilder and 12 other clients of the New Jersey Reentry Corporation, which provides services to court-involved individuals as part of an effort to reduce recidivism.

On top of providing employment opportunities for recovering addicts, Woodhaven Lumber works with each client’s schedule to ensure they receive the addiction treatment they may need during the work week.

“We’re trying to give people a chance. People make mistakes, people have come upon hard times, and they shouldn’t be punished forever,” said Laura Brown, Woodhaven’s human resources manager. “Someday I see Rich on the sales counter. I want him to advance, along with all of our employees.”

Wilder spoke Tuesday during a press conference at the Governor’s Outer Office in Trenton as part of National Recovery Month. Gov. Chris Christie described Wilder as a “miracle,” and said New Jersey still has “an enormous problem with stigma” as it relates to drug addiction; addicts are afraid to come forward and admit they have a problem, he said.

“It’s been my commitment as governor to make New Jersey a national leader in fighting drug addiction,” Christie said. “The good news is that it’s a disease that is often treatable.”

National Recovery Month Announcement
Governor Chris Christie addresses recovery client Rich Wilder. (Governor’s Office/Tim Larsen)

Listing efforts to combat the epidemic of opioid addiction in New Jersey, Christie pointed to drug courts that will be operational in all 21 counties in 2017, expansion of the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to prevent “doctor shopping,” and statewide availability of the overdose reversal drug Narcan.

The antidote has been deployed by law enforcement and EMS personnel approximately 18,000 times since April 2014.

Doubling down on the state’s efforts, Christie on Tuesday announced an expansion of New Jersey’s Recovery Coach Program and an Emergency Order to ban the manufacturing, distribution, sale and possession of seven illegal knock-offs of highly-addictive fentanyl.

In 2015, the Drug Enforcement Administration listed New Jersey among five states hit hardest by deaths related to fentanyl, a painkiller that can be up to 50 times more powerful than heroin.

The Emergency Order adds the knock-offs to the state’s list of Schedule I Controlled Dangerous Substances, meaning a third-degree crime for violators and a fine of up to $25,000 and up to five years in prison.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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