Drug addiction is a problem affecting people of every socioeconomic and ethnic background imaginable, no one is immune from the risk and pain of addiction. It is also an issue that is a rising epidemic in our society.
According to the New Jersey State Medical Examiner's Office, 800 people in the state died from prescription painkiller or heroin overdose, a dramatic increase of a deadly problem. In an effort to confront these issues, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is working to create a new, innovative, and multipronged attack to prevent drug abuse and help its victims.
Christie is currently working with bipartisan groups of lawmakers in the State Senate, working to approve a 21-bill package that will confront the problem of drug abuse from multiple angles. Part of this includes the creation of a drug task force, to search for better ways to communicate with communities to help people in addiction come out of the shadows of their shame, and realize that help is possible.
The Facing Addiction Task Force
On October 9, 2014, Christie signed Executive Order #163, creating the Facing Addiction Task Force. This task force consists of twelve members from diverse walks of life, including a minister, a police chief, a health care provider, and people experienced with running and working with drug recovery programs.
Together, they will work together to develop new strategies to treat drug addiction. Pastor Joe Carter, a minister in Newark experienced in mobilizing communities and dealing with the social, leads this task force, and also includes former Governor Jim McGreevey, who now oversees a rehabilitation and reentry program for inmates at the Hudson County Correctional Facility.
According to Governor Christie, "Those suffering from addiction are often ashamed of their disease," and that this stigma isolates them from the very relationships and community resources that offer help and treatment. Therefore, one of the main goals of the Task Force is to destigmatize addiction, encouraging people in need of treatment to work up the courage to ask it, and have the hope that recovery is possible.
Old models of criminalizing and punishing drug use often has the effect of pushing it into the shadows and giving people all the more reason to keep their dangerous habits in the dark. Governor Christie's efforts are attempting to change this, by encouraging drug court, rehabilitation, substance abuse counseling, and employment training as a way to truly help addicts get back on their feet.
Social Media involvement and education
Part of this new effort includes the social media campaign #BeAFace, urging people to use social media to share their own stories of addiction, helping people to realize that addiction can happen to anyone, and that there are resources for getting sober.
A video to promote the campaign includes clips of several people talking about their stories of addiction, pointing out that drug use isn't just something that happens "over there" or other people. Rather, it is something that affects everyone, rich or poor, from all walks of life and all kinds of stories.
Many people who have not been personally affected by addiction can judge and shame people struggling with substance abuse, creating a stigma that makes it difficult for people to find the help they need. This video and social media campaign, and the new laws Governor Christie is passing, and the new ideas that will come out of this panel, can help us put a truer face on the addict.
Instead of judging, we should listen to the story and pain and humanity behind the person we write off as "a junkie."