As part of an effort to combat the ongoing opioid abuse epidemic, the state Department of Human Services has handed out almost $1.4 million in grants for addiction treatment and prevention programs.

Carole Johnson, the Human Services commissioner, said the primary focus is to help individuals get access to medication assisted treatment, or MAT.

“MAT's the clinical standard. It’s really what the evidence has shown is the way to help people who are suffering from opioid addiction," she said.

As part of that effort, DHS is focusing on expanding training for health care providers so that they’re able and more likely to prescribe MAT.

“What we want to do is make sure that the barriers are low and that people who need access to services get them," Johnson said.

Previously, permission had been needed before someone could get Medication Assisted Treatment.

“When your healthcare doctor or nurse practitioner says you need Medication Assisted Treatment, they can start you on Medication Assisted Treatment," Johnson said.

Medications approved for treatment of opioid addiction include buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone.

She said efforts are also underway to expand peer recovery programs in New Jersey.

“That’s really about making sure that we create places and spaces where people who have what we call lived experience are able to help support other people who are coming into the treatment system.”

She said going to a drug treatment program is not easy.

“It can be a very challenging time when you start in treatment. It requires some diligence, it requires following up regularly with your healthcare provider, and support is important.”

Additionally, a new push is being made to inform people, especially those suffering with chronic pain issues, that non-opioid treatment are available.

“We want people to know that there are alternatives for pain management and some of them aren’t even pharmalogical. Some of them are things like physical therapy,” said Johnson.

The grant awards include:

— $700,000 for the Support Teams for Addiction Recovery (STAR) program. The STAR program will provide case management and recovery support services for people with opioid use disorder in Burlington, Morris, Passaic and Union counties, which are among the counties with the highest overdose rates.

— $300,000 for regional Community Peer Recovery Centers in Sussex, Warren and Atlantic counties, where individuals can access peer support from individuals in recovery, receive information and support about substance use disorder treatment, utilize recovery support services, and gain information about other community resources in a supportive environment.

— $375,000 to increase awareness about alternatives to opioids for the treatment of acute or chronic pain, awarded to centers located in Cape May, Essex, Morris, Ocean and Union counties.

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