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November 06, 2015

In throes of heroin crisis, New Jersey risks losing 42 percent of treatment beds

Atlantic City's John Brooks Recovery Center plans to close if state does not intervene

110615_JohnBrooks Contributed Art/The John Brooks Recovery Center

Despite an $8.1 million relocation agreement with Atlantic City's Casino Reinvestment Development Authority in 2014, The John Brooks Recovery Center plans to close unless the state can provide greater funding.

In each of the last four years, the number of New Jersey residents lost to heroin overdoses has jumped higher as the state contends with an epidemic rise in opiate addiction.

Despite 781 fatal heroin overdoses in 2014, New Jersey is at risk of losing 42 percent of its long-term inpatient treatment beds after a prominent Atlantic City clinic announced plans to shut down next spring, NJ Advance Media reports.

The John Brooks Recovery Center, South Jersey's largest public facility for inpatient substance abuse treatment, will close due to what CEO John Oberman called a series of broken promises by state and local governments.

The administration of Governor Chris Christie disputes Oberman's claim, citing proposed short- and long-term solutions such as moving John Brooks to Vineland or temporarily keeping at the current location. Oberman rejected these proposals as inadequate steps in a state that currently lacks the funding and infrastructure to manage the scope of the addiction crisis.

While John Brooks has sought to obtain funding for a new facility, Oberman told NJ Advance Media that municipalities statewide have buckled under "Not in My Backyard" zoning opposition, including in Atlantic City, where the recovery center, housed in century-old facilities, opened in 1969.

The greatest barriers to John Brooks' survival, however, are low public funding and low reimbursement rates for long-term inpatient treatment facilities. New Jersey Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex) wrote legislation that would force the state to raise reimbursements from $68 per day, but Governor Christie opted to address the situation through the budget.

Christie, who was praised earlier this week for a viral video about drug addiction, has made treatment and recovery a central facet of his presidential campaign. He has argued that the construction of new treatment facilities should be coordinated by the market, not the state, but Oberman contends the zoning objections and reimbursement rates make it difficult to justify construction loans.

Of the 2,800 long-term inpatient recovery beds in New Jersey, just 281 are in facilities south of Trenton, where the majority of towns with the highest heroin and opioid admission rates are located.

In a statement, Christie administration spokesman Brian Murray said that the state was open to continue working with John Brooks Recovery Center to find a solution that won't require it to close. If it does ultimately end operations, Murray added, the state remains confident it can serve South Jersey's needs with existing and new facilities.