It is no surprise to anyone that the war on drugs that started nearly 30 years ago has been a failure. More people are incarcerated and "stuck" in the system living a life of crime because they never received the treatment that could actually help them. Many different professionals around the country believe that we can not arrest our way out of our drug problem. New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie says the state needs to embrace a dramatically different approach to substance abuse, but cautioned that he will not write a blank check to get it there.
In Christie's time as governor of New Jersey, opiate abuse has skyrocketed and become a problem of epic proportions. In 2013, these drugs have claimed the lives of more than 740 people. Tens of thousands of others sought treatment, and many had their lives ruined by addiction. This is a serious issue all around the country and has been for quite some time. It is time for New Jersey to change the way they go about the drug problem.
In an interview with NJ Advance Media, Christie said that we need to change course on the way New Jersey is handling the drug problem. We need a system that values treatment over incarceration. The War on Drugs has failed, he says, and it’s time to move on. “I think what we’ve seen over the last 30 years is it just hasn’t worked,” he said. “And there are some people who make one bad choice to try drugs one time and their particular chemistry leads them to be an addict from the minute they try it. So we need to treat it as a disease. And not having mandatory incarceration for non-violent offenders but having mandatory treatment is something that’s going to yield a much greater result for society in general and for those individuals in particular.“
According to federal data, treatment centers in New Jersey have been operating near or slightly above capacity for several years now. Those that are looking for help are sometimes turned away because there is just not enough beds. The epidemic of heroin and opioids has created a surge that can not be fulfilled currently by the state.
In 2010, the state estimated 37 percent of people seeking substance abuse treatment in New Jersey didn’t receive it. Since then, the number of heroin-related deaths has increased by 160 percent, while the number of people in treatment for heroin or opioids has only increased by 15 percent.
Christie says the state needs to step up to fix this, but just as importantly, the private sector does as well. “I don’t want to build a bunch of new state facilities. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do from a fiscal perspective or for the long-term treatment of these folks,” he said. “We’ve got to be able to have local government agencies, the counties in particular do a better job…to say, ‘here’s where you go, here’s the options for detox that are available, here is non-residential that’s available, here’s residential that’s available,’ and help them connect those dots. I think we need to do a better job at that.”
Hopefully NJ will make some changes to help conquer and reduce the drug epidemic our country is facing.