Acting Commissioner Sarah Adelman announces the Department has awarded a contract to provide cultural competency training for opioid treatment providers to narrow the treatment gap experienced by Black residents, who are statistically less likely to receive or access services.

The Department awarded a $750,000 contract to Family Connections Inc. to provide training, coaching, and consultation services to counselors and leadership employed at state-licensed opioid treatment providers. The plan is being funded by a grant through the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

A secondary goal of this initiative is to increase the prescribing of medication for Black residents that supports addiction recovery. Medication-assisted treatment is the clinical standard of care for opioid use disorder.

“This training will help counselors and agency leaders develop skills and new approaches to ensure that services are provided in a culturally appropriate manner,” Acting Commissioner Adelman said.  “In the absence of healing, opioid use has been a way of coping when a community has been traumatized by decades of violence, poverty, and historic mistreatment in the health care system. Even today, implicit biases within the system result in individuals going without treatment and experiencing premature termination of treatment. When these factors are ignored or misunderstood, it becomes challenging for Black individuals with opioid use disorder to get treatment. This must change – and this training is a step in the right direction.”

Assistant Commissioner Valerie Mielke, who directs the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS), noted higher rates of increase of drug overdose deaths for the Black population, compared to the overall population, including for synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

“One reason for the high death rates is that Black residents with opioid use disorder have experienced limited access to the full range of medication that can treat addiction,” Assistant Commissioner Mielke said. “This is often magnified in the Black community, where there is significant historical mistrust of the health care, social services, and the justice system. In particular, for men, there is the looming fear that seeking treatment will result in severe sentencing and incarceration.”

Among the skills expected to be emphasized in the training are:

  • Addressing misperceptions and faulty explanations about addiction and opioids that contribute to the lack of understanding of substance use disorder as a disease and the high risk for opioid use disorder from prescription opioid misuse;
  • Addressing the social determinants of health and other community and system level factors when discussing the contextual factors associated with any major public health issue;
  • Addressing negative images that contribute to mistreatment, discrimination, and punishment instead of treatment and recovery services;
  • Dispelling the misperceptions that result in health care providers not prescribing opiates or under-prescribing opiates for pain for Black patients when it is warranted;
  • An understanding that intergenerational and polysubstance use are common among some underserved communities and that disentangling the behaviors of a person’s social network are challenging yet critically necessary; and
  • Addressing that opioids are a way of coping in the absence of healing when a community has been traumatized by decades of violence, poverty, and neglect.

“Our treatment providers do amazing work, and it’s our expectation that this project will further improve cultural competence, and as a result, narrow the disproportionate treatment gap,” Acting Commissioner Adelman said. “It’s an absolute must. We need to be certain everyone in New Jersey is receiving equitable access to treatment.”

The initiative will train up to nine providers each year, with a minimum of 60 participants served each year at each agency. Providers will be selected to participate in trainings via an application process managed by the awardee and approved by the DMHAS. The training plan must include measures to identify progress.

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