July 7, 2016 Press of Atlantic City
The completion last month of two new drug treatment centers - one in Pleasantville, one in Atlantic City - might seem equivalent to the arrival of a medium-sized business in the service sector. The units of the John Brooks Recovery Center are expected to be approved to start offering treatment this month.
They are in fact a major step toward two of the area's most important goals - countering the opioid drug epidemic and remaking Atlantic City - and the culmination of several years of work by many officials and agencies.
When the state announced the Atlantic City Tourism District six years ago as a central part of efforts to make the city more appealing to tourists, a key element in that vision was to relocate much-needed social services that conflicted with visitors' ideas of a vacation destination. State representatives famously said at the time that the city couldn't simultaneously be the tourism industry's economic engine and the premier site for social agencies for the homeless and drug-addicted.
Moving drug treatment facilities is never easy, since residents think of them much the same way that visitors do. They'd rather not see addicts, even ones getting help. So finding new facilities, lining up the funding and getting the necessary approvals took time. This newspaper supported the efforts with several editorials.
During that time, however, the opioid epidemic took off, forcing agencies and government at all levels to make law enforcement, prevention and treatment top priorities.
In 2014, 64,766 people in New Jersey sought treatment for drug problems, with nearly half addicted to heroin or opioids. State government made funding drug treatment a priority and finally provided much-needed increases in reimbursement rates for treatment centers. The chief executive of the Brooks Recovery Center said it was the first rate increase he'd seen in 11 years.
That and funding by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority allowed the center to develop the new facilities. One in Atlantic City for city residents will provide intensive outpatient treatment to 30 addicts and medically assisted recovery to up to 300 more.
A waiting room for those getting medicine means no more lines out the door and into the street. Eventually, the facility will move out of the Tourism District.
The larger $3.2 million center for area residents living elsewhere is already outside the district, in the eastern end of the Pleasantville Shopping Center. The 20,000-square-foot facility will serve as many as 700 clients.
Pleasantville residents and their representatives were concerned about safety and objected to the location initially. Now, they seem more accepting of the need to be partners in the fight against substance abuse and of assurances from recovery center officials that an acceptable outside environment will be maintained.
The location has many advantages - lots of parking, on a major highway (Black Horse Pike) with bus service and somewhat on its own at the end of the strip mall.
We like the location, and we know it well. It's in our neighborhood. The back of the Brooks Recovery Center Pleasantville is visible from some of the windows at The Press of Atlantic City. Some of our staffers pass it every day, and we'll be among the first to know if there's a problem.
We don't expect that. We expect this to be a big piece of a bigger success in combating the opioid crisis and polishing the Atlantic City Tourism District.
We welcome those gains, and these facilities.