In honor of Overdose Awareness Day, Aug. 31, Congressman Andy Kim, the New Jersey Organizing Project and other advocates held a “Not One More NJ: A Backyard Conversation to Save Lives” round table in Toms River focused on the need for expanding medication assisted treatment, increasing access to overdose prevention tools such as naloxone, and investing in harm reduction services – approaches proven to work for people experiencing substance use disorder.
Medication assisted treatment, also known as MAT, is used in combination with counseling and therapies to provide a “whole-patient” approach to treating substance use disorder. MAT is associated with reduced need for detoxification services, improved patient survival, decreased unprescribed opiate use and increased ability to gain and maintain employment, among other benefits.
“There is no better time to hold this discussion than now,” said Priscilla Robinson, New Jersey Organizing Project’s organizing director. “The thousands of people across New Jersey living with substance use disorder need our help, and we need action from our elected officials at the state and federal level to get ahead of this growing overdose crisis. The time is now to pass the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act (MAT Act).”
Kim (D-N.J.-2nd) participated in the discussion along with surviving loved ones of victims of the opioid epidemic, which has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans over the last two decades.
“Since day one it’s been one of my top priorities to make sure Congress cuts unnecessary red tape so doctors and treatment centers can effectively combat the opioid epidemic in New Jersey and across the country,” said Kim. “It’s so important to have these conversations, especially today on Overdose Awareness Day. I am proud to have delivered $500 million in additional funding for opioid treatment research and to be a cosponsor of the bipartisan Mainstream Addiction Treatment Act. I will continue working hard to get the MAT Act onto the president’s desk for signature.”
Advocates Eileen Palazza, Elizabeth Burke Beaty, Heather Shapter and Heather Ogden discussed the ways the opioid epidemic has affected their families and many like theirs across the state of New Jersey and across the nation.
“In 2020 we lost over 93,000 loved ones to preventable overdose,” Palazza said, “the most lives lost to overdose in a single year in our country’s history. Not only were these deaths preventable, but they were caused by policy failure at the state and federal level. It’s time our legislators act swiftly to save lives and pass the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act into law.”
“We need to start treating people who use drugs under a complete continuum of care from harm reduction to long-term recovery.” said Ogden, who is with the National Center for Advocacy and Recovery for Behavioral Health NJ.
The advocates called on legislators to build upon the successful passage of three bills that removed outdated barriers to New Jerseyans’ access to medication-assisted treatment and naloxone by passing the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment Act at the federal level. The group emphasized that all communities and individuals should be able to access needed treatment, regardless of geography, income or insurance status.
“While New Jersey has made some important initial progress by passing S3491, S3800 and S3803, more needs to be done to ensure that our communities across New Jersey get the help they sorely need. The MAT Act would mean more access to care for millions of people struggling with addiction,” Robinson said.