Task force targets opiate abuse in NJ

by Dylan Lyons, for the Daily Record

MENDHAM, NJ — Monmouth County resident Justin Boxman was 21 years old when he died of a heroin overdose one year ago.

His mother, Abby Boxman, held up her son’s photo for all to see as she spoke before a task force created to address a growing threat, to which Justin has been just one of many victims.

The Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse’s Task Force on Heroin and Other Opiate Use by New Jersey’s Youth and Young Adults held its second public hearing Tuesday at the Mendham location of Daytop New Jersey, a nonprofit substance abuse treatment organization, and invited a number of speakers to testify on the subject.

Boxman, whose son died on July 13, was one of five witnesses to speak before the task force, and an audience of approximately 75 community members, treatment providers and state officials, about either their own experiences with opiate abuse or the struggles of a close relative. The family testimonies were emotionally charged, and Boxman broke down in tears as she explained that her “worst nightmare” had come true when she lost her son.

“I’m doing this for him,” she said. “There has to be a way for us to put an end to this.”

Family members voiced their concerns with the difficulty of getting insurance companies to cover behavioral treatment programs, such as inpatient and outpatient centers.

They stressed the need for stricter enforcement of parity laws, which require insurance providers to treat mental health care equally to any other medical care.

The task force’s chairman, Frank Greenagel Jr., said the goal of the hearing was to compile recommendations for ways to improve prevention, treatment and recovery support services of opiate and heroin abuse, to be detailed in a written report, which will be sent to Gov. Chris Christie and the state Legislature, and also will be publicly available online.

“You always need a face of the problem,” Greenagel said. “This is a chance for people being affected to have a say in public policy.”

New Jersey has seen a 79 percent increase between 2009 and 2011 in admissions to treatment centers for opiate abuse among those under the age of 25, Greenagel said in his opening remarks.

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