The governor’s referral to alcoholism and drug abuse as a “disease” encourages advocates for treatment and recovery.
On the front lines of the real war on drugs in New Jersey, people are heartened by five words in Gov. Christie’s State of the State address.
“The disease of drug abuse” was the phrase the governor used in proposing mandatory addiction treatment in cases of nonviolent drug-related offenses.
“The governor gets it,” says Stephanie Loebs, vice president of treatment services at Seabrook House Inc., a rehabilitation center in Cumberland County that has helped addicts and alcoholics recover for nearly 40 years.
“The social stigma [is] that addiction . . . is an issue of morals, or a lack of intestinal fortitude, or a lack of willpower,” Loebs says. “Addiction is a chronic illness.”
It’s one thing for a treatment professional such as Loebs or a media personality such as Dr. Phil to embrace the concept that addiction, like alcoholism, is a disease.
But when a hard-charging former U.S. attorney like Christie puts his muscle behind what some might see as a “softer” view about the nature of the beast, it bolsters public acceptance of a fact anyone familiar with addiction and recovery understands all too well.
I’m likewise struck by the language Christie used during his Jan. 17 address, and has continued using as he promotes the proposal in public appearances.
His word choices contrast vividly with the abrasive statements on other issues that have helped make him a celebrity inside and outside the Republican Party.
Referring to offenders who “have not violently victimized society,” Christie said: “Everyone deserves a second chance, because no life is disposable.”
“I ask this Legislature and the chief justice to join me in this commitment. . . . It will send a clear message to those who have fallen victim to the disease of drug abuse – we want to help you, not throw you away.”
Christie’s proposal makes philosophical as well as fiscal sense, says Bill Antinore, a recovering addict who works with ex-cons in his Camden-based ministry called Seeds of Hope.
“Sending the nonviolent [addicts] to prison makes no sense,” he says.
New Jersey spends $40,000 to incarcerate a person for 12 months, but could provide a year of treatment in a secure drug-treatment facility for $12,000.
With mandatory rehab for low-level offenders, “public safety isn’t compromised,” Antinore says. “And from a taxpayers’ standpoint, why not have this trade-off?”