politico.com: Christie's statewide drug abuse task force expected to release report in September


By Katie Jennings 

The statewide drug abuse task force Gov. Chris Christie established by executive order earlier this year will likely release its recommendations next month, chairman Charlie McKenna told POLITICO New Jersey.

"I don't want to steal the thunder from the report," he said when asked for details about what might be included.

The Governor's Task Force on Drug Abuse Control was one of several initiatives included in Christie's January order, which declared the opioid epidemic a statewide public health crisis and authorized action across a range of state agencies.

According to the governor's order, 1,600 drug-overdose deaths were reported in New Jersey in 2015.

President Donald Trump said this week he plans to declare the opioid crisis "national emergency" — one of the primary recommendations of a Christie-led presidential commission — even after administration officials previously indicated such a move was unnecessary.

Christie's state-level declaration had several components, many of which are still in the process of being realized.

The biggest immediate change was that it authorized the attorney general to use emergency rulemaking powers to limit the number of opioids doctors could supply for acute pain to a five-day supply. This was later codified in law, which Christie signed in February.

But the main function of the executive order was to create a statewide task force, charged with developing a "comprehensive, coordinated strategy to combat the drug abuse epidemic." The mandate included a full-scale review of existing statutes and regulation that present barriers to people receiving treatment, as well as consulting with local, federal and private entities.

"The barriers that exist are just people ... [who are] all good intentioned, but not necessarily coordinating as well as we can," said McKenna, who has served in various roles in the administration and is currently the executive director of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority.

The other members include the state attorney general and the commissioners of six different state agencies: health, human services, corrections, education, children and families, and banking and insurance.

"There's any number of agencies that are involved in aspects of this crisis and it's important that we make sure we're all working together and ... any silos of information are broken down," McKenna said.

The executive order also authorized the Department of Children and Families to allow for 18- and 19-year old patients to be treated at their licensed facilities.

"The department amended four existing contracts with substance use disorder treatment providers, providing 18- and 19-year olds access to our 166 treatment beds," department spokesperson Ernest Landante said in a statement.

The agency has also issued a request for proposal to expand treatment to another 20 beds, he said.

One of the other proposals still in development is the creation of a new grade-specific curriculum to educate children of all ages about substance abuse.

Department of Education spokesperson David Saenz, Jr. said the agency is continuing to work on the curriculum guidelines "to ensure that students can better demonstrate an understanding of the dangers of substance abuse."

Saenz said he expects the curriculum to be available starting in the 2017-2018 school year.