The NJ Reentry Corporation’s Medical Director Dr. Aakash Shah underscores the critical role that access to Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) must play in turning the tide against the plague of opioid addiction. Here is what he said recently in an email update from the NJ Reentry Corporation.
Over 3,000 New Jerseyans will die of an opioid overdose death this year.
The number represents an over 20% increase – one of the highest in the nation per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) – from the prior year and highlights the rate at which the state is actively backsliding at a time when several states in the nation have already turned the tide on the opioid crisis.
Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont – among others – have experienced year-on-year declines annual opioid overdose deaths over the past two to three years after they made systematic changes to tackle the crisis statewide.
The central pillar of the statewide responses in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont was increasing access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) with a clear focus on the justice-involved population.
The reasons for this are clear:
They are disproportionately affected: Because of the legacy of the war on drugs, a disproportionate number of the incarcerated suffer from opioid use disorder.
Conversations with officials in Ocean and Monmouth Counties, the epicenter of the crisis in New Jersey, estimate that over 75% of those arrested suffer from opioid addiction.
The same figure is now quickly on the rise in counties across the state, especially those with urban cores like Camden and Essex, as the crisis moves from the suburbs where it originated into inner cities.
They die upon release: When individuals with opioid addiction are incarcerated without treatment, the outcome is as predictable as it is heartbreaking – their tolerance wanes, their cravings increase, and their chance of relapse upon release becomes a virtual certainty.
In an era where increasingly powerful opioids such as fentanyl and its analogues pervade the drug supply, relapse all too often results an instant death.
Effective treatment exists: Medication-assisted treatment – which describes coupling medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone with counseling and wrap-around services – is the only treatment shown to be effective for opioid use disorder.
It cuts the risk of overdose death in half and doubles the chances of recovery.
As an aside, the evidence base for this is exceptionally robust, consisting of multiple, rigorously designed, randomized controlled trial conducted by multiple researchers over multiple years.
And that treatment not only saves lives but reduces recidivism: Adhering to medication-assisted treatment not only reduces the risk of opioid overdose death, it cuts the risk of recidivism. Given the annual cost of incarceration, such findings highlight how treating this population makes economic as well as moral sense.