Friday, April 19, 2019

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Addiction Challenges and Solutions in Perth Amboy

Perth Amboy, New Jersey, is a traditional, historic American town that’s managed to escape the worst effects of the opioid epidemic. Still, the problem is growing here and requires a few extra measures in the area of harm reduction and addiction treatment. Fortunately the vigilant, insightful, and progressive law enforcement personnel are working hard to prevent drug crime and to offer criminals the chance to enter treatment as a a more constructive alternative to punitive measures.

Perth Amboy in Middlesex County, New Jersey has the delightful distinction of being the hometown of fictional character Walter Mitty from Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the 1947 screen classic.

In the movie Perth Amboy comes across as a typical fresh-scrubbed American town. In some respects it still is, which may render it less responsive to danger than cities where response is more urgent. This is unfortunate, as there are still too many denizens looking to opioids to help them become “beautiful dreamers.”

About Perth Amboy

The city is situated at the mouth of the Raritan River, a fact that might render it attractive to smugglers, but it has nonetheless managed to avoid becoming an HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area), perhaps because contraband smugglers have found easier ports of entry nearby. The city includes the neighborhoods of Maurer, Southwest, Amboy Avenue, Chickentown, Spa Springs, State Street, The Waterfront, Hall Avenue, and Harbortown.

Perth Amboy is old enough to have been incorporated twice, once before and once again after the American Revolution, and Benjamin Franklin’s loyalist son William served there as the Royal Governor of New Jersey until 1776, when colonial militiamen put him under house arrest.

The richness of the town’s history is attested to by interesting and rare old architecture remaining from colonial days. The city’s first public school, originally called School One, is now called the Thomas Mundy Peterson School, so named after local Thomas Mundy, the first black person  in the United States to have voted under the 15th Amendment in 1870.

The Eagleswood School, a utopian community, was visited by famous intellectuals like Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry Thoreau.

The estimated median household income for Perth Amboy is slightly less than the national median household income but quite a bit lower than incomes in the rest of the state of New Jersey, which tends to be relatively affluent.

In 2016 20% of the population was said to be living below the poverty line. Education attainments also appear to be not as high as in the rest of the state; in 2016 only 69% of adults had completed high school and only 15% had earned bachelor’s degrees. There also seems to be some inequality in access to education among different ethnic groups.

In 2002 Perth Amboy’s crime rate was slightly higher than the national average, but by 2004 it had fallen below it. In 2016 the crime rate was almost down to half the national average crime rate. Yet compared to neighboring cities, where the crime rate is even lower, Perth Amboy doesn’t come up smelling like a rose.

Gangs, Cartels and Contraband Enterprises

Perth Amboy, Middlesex County, and the state of New Jersey as a whole haven’t escaped the ravages of the opioid epidemic. In 2014 Middlesex County experienced its highest growth rate ever for heroin overdoses; the population remained stable, but heroin deaths quadrupled. The number of people living in residential addiction treatment centers in Middlesex County nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010, and the number continues to grow.

 

So who’s supplying the opioids?

Reports of organized crime and gangs operating out of Perth Amboy have been recorded in the media for at least two decades. One of the more infamous groups are the Ñetas, a gang that originated in the Puerto Rico prison system in the seventies before slowly moving into mainland USA to develop a large network that carried on systematic illegal business activities and laundered money. Members of the gang have been charged with distributing crack and heroin in Middlesex County and in the New Jersey State Prison. Police have also made arrests of people in Perth Amboy with connections to Colombian and Mexican drug cartels

The drug of choice is, as in other areas of the state, heroin, followed closely by alcohol and marijuana. Most who enter treatment are self-referred or referred by the criminal justice system, only a very few being referred by family members. Middlesex County treats a large proportion of those in New Jersey seeking help with dependencies, but relatively few facilities exist within Perth Amboy.

So What Are They Doing About It?

Police diligence

The different police departments in the state and within Middlesex County appear to be tightly organized in efforts to shut down drug trade, sharing resources in order to crack down on organized crime, and the Perth Amboy Police Department is very active in these joint operations.

Even better, the police are sufficiently well integrated with community addiction services that  when they make arrests for drug-related crimes, they immediately dispense literature and offer to transport suspected addicts to drug treatment centers.

Reducing prescription opioids

While Chris Christie served as governor of New Jersey he signed a bill that obliged insurance companies to cover treatment for drug addicts. He also limited opioid prescriptions to no more than a five-day supply in order to keep opioids from proliferating and entering the street.

Aiding recovery with new forms of pharmacology

It’s been proven that pharmacological methods combined with behavioral treatments delivered in a supportive environment work better than simple detox programs.

According to Petros Levounis, a professor and chair of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry, a new agonist has been developed to provide an alternative to methadone and naltrexone, drugs used to ease patients through withdrawal from heroin or prescription opioids. The new drug, buprenorphine, performs the same functions as both methadone and naltrexone.

Because the pill form has to be taken each day and missing a day could cause a relapse, the FDA has just approved buprenorphine implants which can remain in a person’s body for six months, normally the time needed to complete most inpatient recovery programs.

Dr. Levounis also points out the dangers of undergoing detox without having a follow-up treatment plan in place. For one thing, once the drug is flushed out of the system one’s tolerance for opioids goes back down to what it was originally, which means one would need less of the drug than one was using before entering detox. This low tolerance means that the same dose that kept, for example, a heroin addict from entering withdrawal is now enough to kill them.

If you’re in Perth Amboy and you find yourself caught up in the horror of addiction, take courage: We’ve been there and we know how you feel. Letting go of a substance on which you’ve become dependent is a terrifying prospect, and actually doing it can be excruciating, but getting to the other side of dependency is something you will thank yourself for.

Medical marijuana, but not recreational

Marijuana for the treatment of symptoms of illness has long been legal in New Jersey and many dispensaries exist to provide a safe, regularly inspected product for those licensed to use it.

Legislation for legal sales of recreational marijuana is still pending.

Harm reduction

In terms of harm reduction the city of Perth Amboy appears a little underserved, especially when you appreciate that heroin use is so prevalent here. Users may have to travel to other counties or to New York to access sterile syringes.

Drug Court

The city itself has no drug court of its own but is served by the drug court of Middlesex County in New Brunswick.

The New Jersey Superior Court Drug Court Program was set up to respond to the special needs of addicts who commit crimes in order to pay for their drugs. Those found eligible can become participants in drug rehabilitation treatments by being sentenced to probation with mandatory treatment. The needs of the potential participants are balanced against the consequences to victims of crime, and potential risks to the community are also weighed when coming to a decision.

Treatment

Inpatient and outpatient programs aiding recovery aren’t plentiful in Perth Amboy, which is why many seeking help may need to visit nearby cities where facilities are more numerous. In many cases this is preferable, as removing an individual from their accustomed environment separates them from the stressors and triggers that can bring on relapse.

Pre-intake 

Participants are instructed on what to bring to the facility for their stay and which kinds of behavior can and cannot be tolerated, as well as what will be expected of them during the course of the program.

Assessment

Potential participants undergo a process that includes an interview, medical and psychological examinations and tests, and an orientation session. A drug test will be administered and repeated regularly during the stay.

Detox

Some facilities such as hospitals will provide a thirty day detox period during which patients are aided, by means of pharmacological drugs and a system of supports, to become drug free. Counseling and education are provided to prevent relapse.

 

A period of detox is absolutely necessary at the commencement of a recovery program, but by itself it’s rarely enough to prevent relapse, and returning to one’s regular environment right after a thirty-day detox period puts addicts at risk.

 

As mentioned above, the detox process returns drug tolerance to normal levels, meaning that if the addict relapses and returns to the same dose of heroin they were taking before detox, that amount could now be lethal. This is why experts recommend longer term residential inpatient programs to increase the probability of participants remaining safe and clean, ideally for the rest of their lives.

Inpatient treatment 

Perth Amboy’s inpatient treatment facilities include a mix of mental health and drug abuse counselling, trauma counseling, behavioral therapy, vocational rehabilitation, and anger management. Group and individual counseling, available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, teaches participants how to cope with life’s stresses and even how to live with mental disorders without resorting to opioids.

Outpatient treatment

Outpatient care, including intensive outpatient care (IOP) is often made use of in Perth Amboy. Methadone and Suboxone are used in some treatment programs to ease addicts through withdrawal. Counseling, education, and a safe, supportive environment are mandatory in helping the addict get clean.

 

Outpatient treatment is often sought by those unable to remain in residential treatment because of other life obligations, and it does sometimes prove effective for those who simply need regular support, encouragement, and information to help them battle the urges.

Sober living

Once a treatment program has been successfully completed it really pays to maintain a regular schedule of support therapy, meeting at least once a week with others in recovery. In addition, many participants in 12 step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous report that the comfort, wisdom, and encouragement offered by their peers has granted a special meaning and joy to their lives for which they are deeply grateful.

If This Is You...

Addiction is a crisis, a cry for help, and a call to arms. It’s a serious life obstacle that can be overcome with understanding, support, and a strong motivation to experience life as it is and not through the warped lens of an addictive and self-destructive substance.

We get all that, and we’re here to help you find whatever you need to overcome drug dependency. Contact us to help you navigate the resources available in Perth Amboy and to find the treatment program that can help you kick your habit.

 

When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.

~ Harriet Beecher Stowe

 

 

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