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Senator Joseph F. Vitale (D-Middlesex) testifies during today’s Senate voting session.

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Joseph Vitale and Raymond Lesniak focused on providing treatment options for incarcerated individuals and improving efforts to aid prevention, treatment and recovery for those addicted to opiates in the criminal justice system was approved by the Senate today.

As part of a greater series of legislation aimed at tackling the heroin and prescription drug epidemic that is occurring across the state, the legislators’ bills, S-2379 and S-2381, are focused on the establishment of processes and programs for those who are incarcerated or in special probation drug court and can benefit from treatment and recovery efforts.

The legislation would help enroll more incarcerated individuals in pre-trial treatment programs covered by Medicaid, and would allow those who are in the special probation drug court programs to use medication-assisted treatments such as Methadone.

The first bill, S-2379, will establish a process to screen and enroll Medicaid-eligible individuals within the following three categories: individuals following arrest or indictment who are awaiting pre-trial release determination; individuals who are incarcerated and undergoing in-patient hospital treatment; and those who are not enrolled in Medicaid and are being released from a State prison or county correctional facility.  The legislation will provide more individuals with coverage and eligibility to enroll in court-supervised substance abuse treatment programs.

“There is an inextricable correlation between substance abuse and crime. Often, few individuals in the criminal justice system have health insurance in order to gain affordable access to the treatment they need,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex and chair of the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee. “One of the biggest problems we face is that these justice-involved individuals are released back into society after incarceration with no health insurance to continue or immediately seek new medical treatment, risking relapse and further compounding the drug problem in New Jersey. Removing barriers for individuals who need treatment so they can re-enter society in recovery will ultimately lead to lower rates of recidivism and more productive members of society.”

The second bill, S-2381, permits graduation from the special probation drug court with medication-assisted treatment.

“Drug and alcohol addiction is a huge problem for both New Jersey’s and the nation’s prison population,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union. “Policies that reflect an understanding of this linkage could only improve public health and public safety. We have made great strides over the past few years with the expansion of drug courts, but if the treatment we are providing these individuals is not adequate to get them clean, our efforts are all in vain.”

“The loss of life to heroin and prescription drugs has reached epidemic proportions in New Jersey,” added Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “We are taking an active approach to improve access to education and treatment so we can reverse the rapid trend of increasing opiate addiction and overdose deaths across the state.”

The bills were approved by the Senate with a vote of 28-8 for S-2379 and 39-0 for S-2381.  They now head to the Assembly for consideration.

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