NCADD-NJ advocacy leaders impressed an important point on Department of Humans Services (DHS) Commissioner Jennifer Valez and her senior staff: not all cuts to the budget produce a savings. That statement echoed in the testimony of most of the 10 addiction treatment advocates who appeared before the panel, and each recounted a story that served as a case in point.
Each constituency under DHS provided stories that were undeniably compelling from a humanitarian standpoint. The returns on addiction treatment described by the Closing the Addiction Treatment Gap Advocacy Leaders were evident in human terms, certainly, but also in financial ones. The Advocacy Leaders illustrated how appropriate addiction treatment can save the state billions of dollars by reducing costs to the state in the areas such as health care, child welfare and criminal justice. The leaders’ personal stories showed that funds spent on addiction treatment are indeed an investment whose returns are assured. The lives redeemed through treatment are returned to their communities as examples to others and to the workplace as taxpayers. Virtually every witness described how, once they had entered recovery, they felt compelled to help others find a way out of addiction, just as treatment and fellowship combined to put them on a path away from drugs and alcohol.
The most senior person to testify about addictions was Carolyn Hadge, a member of the 2008 Advocacy Leader Class. She entered recovery many years ago and since that time has dedicated herself to educating people about addiction. Hadge said about her own children, “If I fail, I give them an excuse to fail.” With a single sentence she summarized the “tremendous loss that happens with an addicted parent: the loving, the nurturing and the caring that builds health young people is lost in the dysfunction and the drama of a family compromised by addiction.” That one statement captured the effect of addiction on children and its long and costly fallout. It did not take a leap of imagination to understand what happens to children with a parent whose addiction goes untreated – they will be troubled, physically unhealthy, marginal students, possibly become addicted themselves; in short, their life will likely intersect with one or more of the state’s social service agencies and take a toll that is both human and economic.
Nine other Advocacy Leaders took their turn making the case that addiction treatment will pay for itself and more. As NCADD-NJ Policy Analyst Candice Singer noted in her testimony, New Jersey has more than 800,000 residents in need of addiction treatment or services, with only about 7 percent of them being able to access care. That is below the national average of 10 percent. She added that New Jersey spends $3.8 billion to pay for the consequences of unprevented and untreated addiction, a sum that is largely absorbed by the DHS divisions but is also an expense to health and Corrections. Singer said that DHS’s annual tally for the effects of untreated addiction comes to more than $1 billion, which is charged to Medicaid, and the divisions of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities.
DHS is the only department to hold an open forum for the public to offer testimony on the budget. In opening the Nov. 30 session, Valez stated that this will be “the most challenging budget year” of all, which she said had been what she said a year ago. Across the country, she said, states are facing the hardest fiscal choices they have ever had to make, noting that some were intending to eliminate Medicaid altogether. While New Jersey is not going to that extreme, Valez said that reflects “the depth of the crisis we are facing.”