NEWARK – In front of a small group of recovering addicts, Gov. Chris Christie signed an executive order on Tuesday declaring the opioid addiction problem in New Jersey a public health crisis.
The event, which was held at Integrity House – an substance abuse recovery home on South Street in Newark – took place less than an hour after Lt. Gov. Kim Guagdano announced her candidacy to succeed him as governor.
Christie made drug addiction a priority for his administration earlier this month, when he spent a large portion of his State of the State address talking about his plans to help curb the rising number of addictions stemming from opioid abuse. The executive order signed on Tuesday creates a task force that will be able to develop strategies to combat opioid abuse by working with various areas of state government, among other provisions.
During Tuesday’s event, Christie outlined both broad and specific points of his plan to take on opioid addiction that he spoke about in his State of the State speech and heard eight personal stories of recovery by participants in Integrity House’s programs.
“The reason I do this, is because many of the ideas I laid out in the State of the State speech … came from meetings like this,” Christie told the group shortly after signing the executive order.
During Tuesday’s hourlong visit to Integrity House, Christie spoke about his plans to fight opiate addiction and spoke to the group of recovering addicts about the struggles they have faced and their road to recovery.
In a “U” shaped table, one man in the center’s recovery program told Christie about his addiction to painkillers – and later heroin – that followed an injury he suffered during a football game in college. Another member of Integrity House’s program told the governor about his addiction that began when he was 16 years old and was still reeling from the deaths of his parents – who were both addicts. At some points, the discussion became emotional.
After his daughter had her wisdom teeth taken out, Christie said, he took away the prescribed 30 Percocet pills she was given by her doctor and handed her Advil instead.
Christie told the group he hopes a bill addressing opioid addiction will be voted on within 30 days.
“Every day we wait there are more kids and young adults getting bottles of pills,” he said. “If we can stop that, we can at least save some lives.”
As part of his plan, he detailed in his State of the State address, Christie announced the launch of a new website, reachnj.gov, and a hotline to help addicts simplify their access to treatment. He said he hopes to change school curriculum regarding opioids, adding beds in treatment centers for older teens and limiting the amount of opioids doctors can prescribe patients, among other goals.
The executive order he signed on Tuesday also will direct Attorney General Chris Porrino to limit the initial prescription of opioids for acute pain and establish standards that would make additional prescription renewals require a visit by a patient. The task force will be headed by Charlie McKenna, the executive director of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority.
Christie’s event came on the same day that Guagdano, his lieutenant governor for the past seven years, announced her candidacy to replace him in Trenton when his term expires. Guagdano appears to have been distancing herself from Christie over recent months – as his popularity among New Jersey residents continues to remain low.