Gov. Chris Christie’s fight against the opioid crisis and his chairing of the president’s anti-addiction commission have put New Jersey first in a treatment-access breakthrough.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced at the start of this month that it was reconsidering a 50-year-old ban on paying for inpatient addiction treatment at large facilities and giving New Jersey and Utah waivers to start using Medicaid for that purpose in January.

New Jersey will be allowed to use Medicaid funds to expand access to residential withdrawal-management treatment, medication-assisted treatment, peer support and targeted case management.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma said the change is in response to President Donald Trump’s declaration of the opioid crisis as a national health emergency and builds on the administration’s effort to give states more flexibility with their Medicaid programs.

“Previous policies ignored the growing urgency of the national opioid epidemic and instead put onerous requirements on states that ultimately prevented individuals from accessing these needed services,” Verma said.

“It’s huge for New Jersey,” Robert J. Budsock, CEO of treatment provider Integrity House, told NJ Spotlight. “If you have someone who is uninsured or on Medicaid, there are not many residential treatment beds available.”

The Medicaid change was high on the list of 65 recommendations by the Presidential Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which were released at the start of the month.

New Jersey received approval in July to place Medicaid patients in treatment facilities but has been paying their full cost. In September, nearly 41,000 Medicaid members were receiving substance-abuse-disorder services.

Last year, nearly 2,000 N.J. residents lost their lives to addiction. Federal officials say opioids kill an average of 175 Americans daily.

Christie said the Medicaid funding change will give “thousands more New Jerseyans with the disease of addiction” access to treatment and recovery. He said that his commission has made its recommendations and the president has declared an emergenc, and now Congress must appropriate adequate funds to address the crisis.

The commission didn’t suggest a funding level, but commission member Patrick Kennedy predicted the need was at least $10 billion. The former congressman and recovery advocate, who lives in Brigantine, said that amount is less than half of what Congress committed to fighting the AIDS epidemic.

That’s a small price to attack such a devastating affliction on America, and we hope Congress quickly provides the funds. Delay just means many more lives lost and families devastated.

Christie deserves considerable credit for helping focus his state and the nation on the crisis.

Gov.-elect Phil Murphy should make sure New Jersey maintains its momentum and leadership on the scourge of opioids.

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