Addiction treatment providers could expand under Christie proposal

March 01. 2012 1:23PM


Addiction treatment providers would see a major expansion in their services under a proposal by Gov. Chris Christie to require drug treatment for nonviolent drug-addicted offenders.

Christie has proposed a $2.5 million program for the fiscal year beginning July 1 that would allow 1,000 to 1,500 people who are currently incarcerated to be released voluntarily to addiction treatment centers.

In 2013-14, Christie would begin to mandate a year of treatment for all nonviolent offenders who are addicted. The governor announced details of the proposal at the Rescue Mission of Trenton, a nonprofit that provides action treatment.

Christie said the state would save money in the long run, since prisoners cost the state an average of $49,000 per year, while inpatient treatment costs $23,000 to $25,000. An estimated 7,000 inmates or people on probation may qualify, Christie said.

"We're going to have to work with the private sector and with governmental agencies that also provide this treatment at the county level, to make sure they build up the capacity that's necessary," Christie said.

Christie added that the state isn't expecting to invest money on expanding private-sector capacity, since providers make money from the contracts.

"They're going to have to build up their own capacity if they want to contract with the state," he said.

Providers are prepared to step into the role Christie foresees for them, according to Debra L. Wentz, CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies Inc.

"Providers are extremely innovative and they have always operated on shoestring budgets," Wentz said. "They have always been a model of good, efficient business practices."

Wentz's organization includes 170 nonprofit members, a quarter of which are hospital-based. The freestanding operators have annual budgets ranging from $3 million to $80 million, she said.

Rescue Mission CEO Mary Gay Abbott-Young said her organization is prepared to work with the state and court officials to expand its capacity. She said Christie's focus on treating addiction as a disease that can be successfully treated can have large ramifications.

"I think it's the most major policy shift I've seen in 35 years in this business," said Abbott-Young, whose facility employs about 50.


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