N.J. summit focuses on recognizing addiction as disease, treating it that way

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was in Newark for a Tuesday summit on the wide-ranging effects of addiction and discussions on trying to cut the stigma associated with getting help to beat a drug habit.

The governor’s message to the state law enforcement, social workers and health care providers in the audience at New Hope Baptist Church was clear: Addiction is a disease, and it can affect anyone.

In a conversation with Pastor Joe Carter, Christie promoted two pieces of legislation aimed at helping those suffering from addiction get treatment rather than jail time.

One, “ban the box,” removes criminal history questions from initial job applications. Another allows nonviolent drug offenders to get out on bail even if they can’t afford to pay fees or post collateral.

“That removes the stigma, the mandatory jail time being removed removes the stigma, the debtors’ prison part of it removes the stigma,” he said. “And so all those things are things that go at trying to look at this a different way, talk about it, and have the laws that govern our society treat it a different way.”

Drug treatment still needs to be more readily available to people who need it, Christie said, adding that it’s the responsibility of the state to make that happen.

During his remarks, Christie mentioned a former law school classmate who had a family and successful career. But the classmate became addicted to painkillers and alcohol and recently passed away.

The governor also addressed the backlash he received from some after he ordered state flags flown at half-staff after the death of singer Whitney Houston, who had struggled with addiction.Christie has labeled the so-called “war on drugs” a failure and has concentrated on offering offenders treatment instead of incarceration.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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