On Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie marked the one-year anniversary of the creation of the Facing Drug Addiction Task Force. He also said the state will expand re-entry programs for drug offenders coming back into society.

Gov. Chris Christie marks the one-year anniversary of the Facing Drug Addiction Task Force. (Office of Gov. Chris Christie/YouTube)
Gov. Chris Christie marks the one-year anniversary of the Facing Drug Addiction Task Force. (Office of Gov. Chris Christie/YouTube)

According to the governor, there will be a new referral source for addiction services and the Narcan overdose prevention program would also be expanded.

“What I’ve tried to emphasize over the last six years is to remind everybody that drug addiction is a disease. It is a disease. It’s not a moral failing,” Christie said.

Everybody has made mistakes in their lives and nobody tries a drug thinking they’re going to become an addict, the governor said, but it happens and those people need help. He said the state needs to deal with the disease in a way that not only helps the person with it, but also their family.

“This impacts entire families. It impacts co-workers, colleagues, neighbors, friends. It affects everyone who is in this person’s orbit so this is not a victimless crime or a single victim crime,” the governor said. “We can’t just throw people in jail. That’s not going to work. It hasn’t worked for 30-plus years and it’s not going to work.”

The governor also announced that the state will launch a “Recovery Coaches” program to connect addicts with treatment professionals, counselors and support services in the immediate aftermath of an overdose. There will also be a program designed to streamline services available to ex-offenders so they get the support they need to reclaim their lives and move back into the workplace.

“I will tell you that of all of things that I’ve been involved with in the last six years as governor nothing makes me prouder than this. Nothing is more important to me personally than this,” Christie said.

The governor made his announcement at a treatment center in Paterson called Turning Point. A recovering addict named Michelle, who grew up in an alcoholic home, spoke about how her life has turned around. From 2006-2013 she was in and out of 13 treatment facilities before she finally decided to make a real change on June 3, 2013.

“The first time I took a sip of alcohol or smoked a joint I did not think I would end up with a needle in my arm, but the progression of the disease was slow and then it got faster and in time I ended up on the streets using heroin daily,” Michelle said. “I had lost everything in my life.”

Michelle said she overdosed and actually died, but was resuscitated and used drugs that same day. She said she is eternally grateful that Turning Point opened their doors to her and saved her life.

Also on hand Tuesday was former Gov. Jim McGreevey who has been working with addicts and with prisoner re-entry. An uncharacteristically soft-spoken Christie thanked his predecessor before turning the microphone over to McGreevey.

“We’ve made government work,” McGreevey said. “This would not have happened, but for the governor’s leadership.”

Kevin McArdle has covered the State House for New Jersey 101.5 news since 2002. Contact him at kevin.mcardle@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kevinmcardle1.

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