NJ gov. candidates offer plans on opioid addiction but details murky

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- The two top party candidates running to succeed Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey are promising multi-faceted plans on the state's opioid crisis, but have fleshed out few details on how to finance the efforts.

Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno both say they recognize opioid addiction as an illness that requires state attention. Murphy stresses expanding the availability of treatment. Guadagno is calling for a regional coalition to confront the epidemic. Both candidates have put forward plans to address the disease that killed nearly 2,000 people in 2015 in the state.

But neither candidate has specified what their plans would cost and what metrics they'd use to determine whether the proposals are succeeding.

THE ISSUE

Like the country overall, New Jersey has seen the number of deaths from drug overdoses skyrocket since 2010. Deaths from drug overdoses went from 843 in 2010, the first year of Christie's administration, to nearly 1,600 in 2015, according to data from the Office of the State Medical Examiner.

New Jersey has also had one of the country's loudest proponents of addressing the crisis in Christie, who chairs President Donald Trump's commission on opioids. A final report is expected from the panel by the end of next month. An initial report said that about 142 deaths each day from drug overdoses mean the death toll is "equal to September 11 every three weeks."

In New Jersey, Christie has expanded drug courts, grown a program that sets recovering people up with coaches who help them mend and recently announced an infusion of $200 million to address opioid addiction.

He's also declared a public health crisis, mirroring the calls for a national emergency declaration he has asked the president to sign off on. Trump declared a public health emergency alongside Christie on Thursday.

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IN THEIR OWN WORDS

Both Murphy and Guadagno have spelled out plans on their campaign websites to address opioid addiction, but neither candidate has emphasized the issue in the same way that Christie has over the last year. The problem has not been featured in either camp's TV ads, for example, or figured prominently in either of the two debates.

The candidates say they recognize addiction as a disease and call for an end to the stigma surrounding it.

Murphy says he would expand treatment facilities, increase access to preventive treatment, lower the cost of drugs that revive people who overdose on opioids, fund a public awareness campaign and expand support systems for those who overdose.

Guadagno is proposing a regional coalition to address opioid addiction. Her plan also includes making sure help is offered to people addicted to opioids "immediately," and improving the state's prescription drug monitoring program, on which Christie has promised to spend $2 million to "increase the performance" of the database.

Guadagno's campaign says she will leave the public health crisis declaration enacted by Christie in place, if elected. Her campaign declined to say whether it would continue to fund Christie's $200 million in opioid initiatives.

Murphy's campaign did not respond to questions on whether he'd leave the declaration in place or fund the programs.

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WHAT THEY'RE NOT SAYING

The candidates' handling of the crisis contrasts sharply with Christie, who has dedicated his final year in office to fighting opioid addiction. The candidates' handling of the crisis contrasts sharply with Christie, who has dedicated his final year in office to fighting opioid addiction. Neither Guadagno nor Murphy has concentrated on the issue throughout the campaign. They also have not gotten specific about how much money they would dedicate to opioids from the budget or how they would pay for the proposals they've laid out on their campaign sites.

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