New Jersey bill mandates addiction as a mental illness

A bill just passed in New Jersey will cause people to be court-mandated to an outpatient facility if they are putting their own lives or other lives in danger. The bill was largely supported by parents and others who lost loved ones to addiction, according to local publication

Viewing addiction as a mental illness

Addiction diagnosis was not always the only requirement needed to send a person into an outpatient rehabilitation program. Judges also had to decide if the person was putting him- or herself and others at risk. Even property destruction could cause admission.

So, parents talked to the Assembly Human Services Committee and convinced it to support the bill, allowing addiction to fall under the umbrella of mental illness.

Families believe that addiction, like several other mental illnesses, does not have a single cure. Often, willpower alone cannot cure addiction. It may take forcing a person into an addiction treatment center for him or her to receive the help needed. Parents noted that addiction does not just affect the user, it affects the entire family. They noted that in schizophrenia, a person does not have a choice whether he or she wants to hear voices or not.

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, substance abuse disorder is considered a mental disorder.

Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, D-Hudson, believes the bill will help alleviate the current addiction crisis.

“We need to approach addictions the same way we do any other disease or illness,” he said. “We’ve heard of far too many parents grieving the loss of a child because there was only so much they could do for them within our existing laws. It’s time to give family members greater power to save their loved ones.”

Taking a closer look at addiction treatment centers

A related bill was also passed that helps regulate addiction treatment centers in the area to ensure that they are helping patients.

Part of the bill requires that the center’s staff contact family members or loved ones if a person is released or evicted from a treatment facility. The bill also holds the Department of Human Services responsible for licensing sober living houses and communities.

Though some addiction treatment centers may be doing their job, not all are, said Assembly Committee Chairwoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, who sponsored both bills with Mukherji.

“Sober living homes, if run properly, can be an important transitional facility for recovering addicts,” she said. “Sadly, we’ve heard a number of stories where, without proper oversight, they became a haven for recovering addicts to die in the shadows. We need to make sure they are being regulated properly so that this doesn’t happen.”

The prevalence of addiction treatment center admissions

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration stated that, in 2013, New Jersey had 71,496 admissions for alcohol and drug abuse in state, local, private and nonprofit substance abuse treatment facilities. Of those admissions, 26,707 were from heroin.

Hopefully, families and the state government can work together to finding a resolution for the high rate of drug use in New Jersey.

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