New Jersey Governor and GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie announced a new plan to use $100 million for mental health and substance addiction treatment in New Jersey during his annual State of the State address.
Christie, who has made addiction treatment a major part of his political platform, has repeatedly said that the way the U.S. treats people with a drug addiction needs to change.
“Addiction is an illness and is something we can beat,” Christie said. “If we give people the tools and support they need to overcome this disease, and if we choose to free people from the stigma of addiction, and recognize this as the public health challenge it truly is, we can help people to reclaim their lives.”
Christie also stated that with the new plan, people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can seek and receive treatment, something that is often difficult for lower-income individuals.
In his address, Christie added that he wants to turn the prison at Fort Dix, New Jersey, into a substance abuse and mental health treatment center for inmates. By doing this, Christie hopes to make rehabilitation a more realistic possibility for New Jersey inmates while also being efficient with the state’s resources.
In New Jersey, the nation’s most densely populated state, more than 128,000 people are addicted to heroin and more than 5,200 have died as a result of the growing opioid and heroin epidemic. The number of New Jersey deaths due to heroin and opioids has increased fourfold, according to the CDC. Additionally, the state’s death rates due to the drugs are three times the national average.
Christie hopes the new funding will give Garden State residents struggling with substance abuse more opportunities to receive the proper treatment they need instead of ending up in the criminal justice system.
The investment we’re making will change lives and get more people into treatment earlier, instead of the emergency room or prison later.
Christie has been advocate for substance abuse treatment since early on in his political career. In October, Christie spoke about his mother’s struggle with smoking, which eventually led to her death.
“My Mother was a smoker,” Christie said during a campaign event in New Hampshire. “She smoked her whole life, she was addicted to nicotine.”
“She tried everything she could to quit,” Christie said. “She had the gum, the patches, hypnosis. She tried everything. She couldn’t quit.”
Christie also opened up about a close friend from law school who also lost his battle to painkiller addiction after a simple running injury.
“He was running his normal time and he hurt his back,” Christie said. “He went to the doctor because he was having trouble working, really hurt, and [the doctor] said listen, we’re going to give you some treatment, whatever, but in the meantime just to help to get you through, we’re going to give you Percocet [painkiller].”
Christy went on to detail his friend’s 10-year battle with drug addiction, during which he lost his family, his house, his job and eventually his life.
“A year and a half ago on a Sunday morning, Mary Pat (Christie’s wife) and I got the call that we’d been dreading forever,” Christie said. “That they found him dead in a motel room with an empty bottle of Percocet and an empty quart of vodka. 52 years old.”
Christie also said that treatment, not incarceration, is the solution to the substance addiction problem in the U.S.
“We need to start treating people in this country, not jailing them.” Christie said. “We need to give them the tools they need to recover.”