Former NJ Governor Jim McGreevey (5th from left), with (left to right) Trinitas staff members Michele Eichorn, Connie Kozachek, Dr. Umer Ahmad, Marlyse Benson, Maribeth Santillo, Mary McTigue and Jim McCreath during the recent conference on drug and alcohol abuse sponsored by Trinitas Regional Medical Center at Union County College.

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Doug Harris

Yolanda Fleming

Former Governor McGreevy and addiction experts address NJ's epidemic

Former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevy led a distinguished panel of state-wide experts and Trinitas Regional Medical Center professionals in a comprehensive symposium held recently that examined the epidemic of drug and alcohol addiction in the community. The event, entitled, "How Addiction Affects our Communities: A Model for Successful Healthcare Integration" also gave attendees the chance to learn about successful treatment solutions in place at Trinitas.

"Who among us does not have a friend or family member affected by alcohol, drugs, or, addiction to prescription pain-killers?" asked Gary S. Horan, FACHE, President and CEO of Trinitas. His remarks opened the conference, which attracted over 100 healthcare professionals to the event location at Union County College in Cranford.

McGreevey, referring to the abuse of prescription painkilling drugs, stated, "The lines between legitimate medications and street drugs have been blurred." He described the extreme addictive nature of prescription painkillers, and their link to a cheaper alternative, heroin. "Heroin is finding its way to people who never imagined they would find themselves in an addicted state," he stated. Fully two-thirds of all drug deaths in New Jersey involve the initial use of painkillers such as Percocet and OxyContin, said McGreevey.

In addition to the physical dangers posed by drugs and alcohol, the epidemic is taking a heavy toll on society. "Today, in our jails and prisons, we are incarcerating an addicted population. Fully 70 percent of people in custody are alcohol or drug addicted," he explained, adding. "This raises a central question – are we going to defer to treatment or to prison?" He explained that Governor Christie has taken steps to provide treatment to those behind bars, but more is needed. "It's all too easy to lock up this problem," McGreevey said, adding that only 11 percent of the jailed population is currently getting treatment.

In addition to Former Governor Jim McGreevy, panelists included Celina Levy, Executive Director of the Governor's Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse; Valerie Mielke, Assistant Commissioner, NJ Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services of the Department of Human Services, and Trinitas staff including: Dr. Umer Ahmad, Hospitalist; Michele Eichorn, DSRIP Clinical Coordinator, and Connie Kozachek, Director, Department of Education, Training, and Development.

Michele Eichorn, who runs the Hospital-wide Screening for Substance Use Disorders Project at Trinitas explained, "As drug abuse is no longer confined to our cities, it's important that all communities know that Trinitas is on the frontlines with counseling and treatment programs for abusers." As part of her program, every adult patient who is medically admitted to Trinitas sits down with a nurse and has a conversation about alcohol and drug abuse. An Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) is administered, and if a patient scores an 8 or above, Michelle’s team in called in.

"We have honest conversations with the patient and really listen," she said. The patients are quickly referred to treatment and a recovery plan is assembled, usually within hours. Connie Kozachek added that in order to work, the focus must be on "normalizing our conversations and reducing stigma." Since a major part of the Trinitas program is on proper evaluation, staff members must be highly educated.

The Hospital wide Screening for Substance Use Disorders project is funded by Medicaid's Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP) program. Results of the program have been impressive, according to Eichorn. Between seven and 14 patients per month have been identified and placed into drug or alcohol treatment.

For more information on this program at Trinitas, call 908-994-7079.


About Trinitas Regional Medical Center
Trinitas Regional Medical Center (TRMC), a major center for comprehensive health services for those who live and work in Central New Jersey, is a Catholic teaching medical center sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth in partnership with Elizabethtown Healthcare Foundation. With 10 Centers of Excellence across the continuum of care, Trinitas has distinguished itself in cardiology, cancer care, behavioral health, renal care, nursing education, diabetes management, wound healing and sleep medicine.

Posted: May 28, 2016

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