A new report published Tuesday by the New Jersey Reentry Corporation suggests major changes to addiction treatment in New Jersey, including better coordination among providers, a minimum of 6 to 12 months of care and expert navigators who would work closely to support patients.

Former Gov. Jim McGreevey, who is chairman of the board for the Reentry Corporation, said that for families of a person who die from an opioid addiction, there’s nothing more tragic, futile or frustrating than trying to get help for a loved one through New Jersey’s fragmented system.

“They’re not integrated clinically. They’re not integrated financially. And they’re not integrated in terms of electronic information,” McGreevey said.

“In many cases, where they go for treatment, what they access, it’s accidental, it’s coincidence or it’s chaos,” he said.

Debi Natale’s son finally got the help he needed after repeated relapses and many thousands of dollars spent on insurance coverage. She said changes are needed.

“Our families are bankrupt, they’re losing homes, from trying to help their loved ones get into treatment,” said Natale, one of a half-dozen mothers from a Parent to Parent support group who attended a Statehouse news conference.

The report by the New Jersey Reentry Corporation says the state should create an independent commission that would be charged with facilitating the addiction treatment program. It calls for better use of technology to track patients and an emphasis on medication assisted treatment now available in just 56 of 244 fee-for-service providers.

Report co-author Kaya Curtis, a student at Columbia University, said New Jersey clearly has the infrastructure needed to move toward a ‘hub-and-spoke’ model having success in Vermont.

“Right now the system is extremely fragmented, and that is a major issue because people are going into the system, coming out repeatedly, almost an absurd amount of times.”

Dr. David Gastfriend of the American Society of Addiction Medicine said 6 to 12 months of care should be the minimum, not the 28 days now set by state law – or the mere days that some patients get, said Natale and other parents.

“Arbitrary limits on how long you can get one treatment or another treatment or how many times in coverage one can get treatment is absurd,” Gastfriend said.

The report said the opioid epidemic costs New Jersey more than $2 billion a year, in addition to a toll approaching 3,000 lives a year – at a time it seems to be leveling off nationally.

“When you add up lost productivity, the health care expenditures, the addiction care expenditures, the criminal justice expenditures. So the money is there, we’re just wasting it,” Gastfriend said.

Sen. Joe Vitale, D-Middlesex, called the report the best he has seen in four years in terms of offering a cohesive plan for dealing with the opioid crisis. New Jersey’s overdose act saves lives, he said, but he wonders often about what happens next.

“So we’ve saved someone – now what?” Vitale said. “Where are they, and what kind of care are they getting? Do they have family? Do they have the resources? Do they have insurance? Do they have the right kind of treatment options? And we’ve discovered over time that by and large, many people do not.”

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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