Atlantic County Ups Spending On Drug-Abuse Recovery

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More of Atlantic County’s budget for treating substance abuse disorders will go toward recovery support services next year, according to a new request-for-proposals published on Friday.

Next year’s planned increase in spending on recovery support services does not reflect a change in the pattern of the opioid epidemic in South Jersey – it is a result of the federal government kicking in more funding for intensive inpatient services in 2018. That allows the county to shift some of its budget away from costly residential services, explained Robert Widitz, the county’s substance abuse services coordinator.

Atlantic County has long been in the top three in the state by number of overdoses, according to Widitz, but he believes recent initiatives to expand access to the overdose-antidote naloxone are helping.

Used needles were lying outside the former Taj Mahal human resources office in Atlantic City in August this year.

“I think we’re making an impact, but how much of an impact it’s hard to measure,” said Widitz, noting that the effects of the program will take time to feed through into overdose numbers. The Atlantic County prosecutor’s office has been very supportive, he said.  Prosecutor Damon Tyner has called for more recovery mentors and that is one of the initiatives that the county will broaden next year.

A chunk of the county’s budget for recovery support will go to creating a network of recovery mentors, Widitz said. The county wants people who are revived with naloxone or Narcan  to receive guidance from counselors who can help them get access to treatment immediately after overdosing and then follow up with them through their treatment and into recovery. Atlantic County will spend $70,140 on recovery support services, in 2018 more than three times the amount it spent this year on those services.

The county also hopes to add more ambulatory outpatient services this year, meaning more treatment centers that are open to recovering addicts who are still working and in the community. Widitz said that there are centers in Hammonton and Egg Harbor Township that currently provide those services, and he is hoping that other providers will respond to the RFP for next year. The county is upping its spending on these intensive outpatient services to $200,000, a little over one third of its total $575,000 budget, according to the RFP. “There are a lot more people now who are trying to stay in work, trying to stay in the community,” Widitz said. The idea is that having more outpatient clinics around the county would help more recovering addicts stay in work.

The county receives over half a million dollars each year from the New Jersey department of health for treating drug-and-alcohol abusers. The county has discretion on how it spends that money and is seeking bids from organizations that provide services from halfway houses to intensive in-patient treatment and walk-in outpatient clinics. The bids are due by Tuesday, Dec. 5.

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