PARAMUS — The New Jersey Reentry Corporation has announced it is joining with behavioral health service provider Care Plus NJ to implement more direct referrals and access to treatment for released prisoners who are acclimating back into society.

A memorandum of understanding signed last Thursday will allow NJRC to refer its clients directly and immediately to Care Plus. Once referred, those clients will be able to avail themselves of medicated assisted treatment designed to curb opioid cravings and reduce the risk of overdosing.

The ultimate goal of the partnership will be not only to wipe out addiction, but recidivism as well.

Joe Masciandaro, president and CEO of Care Plus, said this is a reflection of a gradual change in policy from the "War on Drugs" strategy popularized in the 1980s. He said substance abuse is the reason many people wind up in prison in the first place, and that his group's alliance with NJRC is a collaborative social justice project focused on expedited access to care.

Of course, NJRC has come to prominence in recent years through the advocacy of its executive director, former Gov. Jim McGreevey. But Masciandaro also credited Gov. Phil Murphy and former Gov. Chris Christie with helping New Jersey break away from what he called the "AA mentality" that sobriety is the sole option for substance abusers.

"This is not a political issue at all. I would call it a consensus, on a national level, that we need to take a different approach," Masciandaro said, adding, "I think New Jersey has been ahead of many other states in trying to deal with this huge issue."

Advocates are continually needed, Masciandaro said, because released prisoners often will have the motivation to get help. Yet they may be unable to get that help when they are most motivated to receive it. Care Plus' new association with NJRC will ideally streamline that process.

Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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