More Help with Recovery

by Albert B. Kelly, Mayor, City of Bridgeton

Roughly a week ago, I stood with various officials and stakeholders for the dedication of what will be the Cumberland County Capital Recovery Center at 72 N. Pearl Street opening in early 2020. At first glance the name can cause confusion. Say the word “capital” and the first things that come to mind are money and finance. But in the world of addiction and recovery, the word “capital” is really about what people have to fall back on in recovery—assets such as family, friends, spiritual life, and work—basically their “village.”

I mention “village” because in so many areas of life these days, making progress or achieving success takes an assemblage of people in one’s orbit who care. I know for some, the sentiment of “the village” sounds like some left-leaning notion that reeks of a lack of personal responsibility but it’s not, especially in a day and age when so many live without the support and sense of stability that my generation got from home, family, marriage, religion, work, and friends.

The Capital Recovery Center, and what it might offer, comes at a time when our society is being shredded by drug overdoses, mostly from heroin and fentanyl. Just focusing on our immediate area, in the six years from 2012 through 2017, Cumberland County saw 241 overdose deaths from drugs. For comparison purposes, in Gloucester and Salem counties in that same period, the numbers were 456 and 76 respectively.

Over and against the overdose numbers, according to the New Jersey Department of Health, from 2013 through 2017 the number of our residents that were first-time admissions for substance abuse treatment was 12,795 with 43 percent of those seeking treatment for addiction to heroin or some other opiates. First-time admissions in Gloucester and Salem counties during that time numbered 19,632 (55 percent for opioids) and 4,147 (44 percent for opioids) respectively.

Whatever the numbers tell us about the size of the problem and whatever we choose to see in those numbers, the reality is that we’re losing far too many souls to the ravages of substance abuse. We now know that relapse is a common occurrence on the road to recovery and it can be a lifelong struggle. So there is a need for whatever patchwork of services we can cobble together at the local level, something that can be difficult in the best of times.

The addicted and those in recovery have never been a sympathetic lot to begin with so there are too few programs out there to help and of the programs that do exist, many are chronically underfunded. Another challenge is the number of programs out there that exploit addiction. There’s a lot of money to be made off of addiction and the country is littered with programs that find creative ways to bill insurance or Medicaid while delivering little of value to those in need.

Locally, we’re fortunate to have programs and people who are committed to progress. For one, Inspira opened its 20-bed acute alcohol and drug detox unit a couple of years ago now under the leadership of Dr. Kaitlan Baston, M.D., a board- certified addiction medicine specialist serving as the medical director for the inpatient unit and its various programs. If we can achieve a degree of coordination between Inspira, the Capital Recovery Center, and the mobile Recovery on Wheels program we can make meaningful progress.

The hope is that the Capital Recovery Center might serve as that flexible resource to fill in the gaps not addressed by treatment programs. The Capital Recovery Center will be a community-based support program, not a treatment facility. It will help individuals in their recovery, and families, by assisting them with everything from organizing personal finances and navigating the web of social services, to getting health referrals, obtaining a GED, or simply being a shoulder to cry on. That’s no small thing.

The more recovery capital a person has the greater the chances that the person will succeed in their recovery long term. For those with little capital of their own, my hope is that the Center will provide what might be considered the equivalent of start-up capital with their small but dedicated staff being the ones to guide, coach, encourage, exhort, and cheer those working on recovery. The needs are great.

Mayoral Musings