For the longest time, the problem with the battle against heroin addiction was an attitude problem. To most of America, heroin was someone else's problem - an urban problem, a minority problem.
That was never particularly true. But now the evidence is overwhelming. The disease of heroin addiction is everywhere - in fancy suburbs, in middle-class families, even in largely rural areas like Cape May and Cumberland counties. And people have, in large part, come to acknowledge that reality.
Today, the problem with the battle against heroin addiction is beds - treatment beds in in-patient rehabilitation facilities. Which means that the problem is also about money.
South Jersey, indeed the nation, has nowhere near the number of treatment beds needed. According to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, of the 23.1 million Americans who needed treatment for drugs or alcohol in 2012, only 2.5 million were treated at a rehab facility.
And when an addict does find a bed in a treatment facility, he or she often runs up against insurance companies' refusal to pay for the full three to four weeks of detox and treatment that are considered the most effective.
Cape May County does not have a single bed listed in the state Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services' treatment directory (although the county does offer placement services and covers three weeks of in-patient treatment through a group called Cape Counseling). Cumberland County has 146 beds in Bridgeton at Seabrook House , which describes itself as a "private and exclusive" rehab center. And most of Atlantic County's treatment beds are at the John Brooks Recovery Center in Atlantic City - where most of the recent discussion has not been about expansion but about how to hide the recovering addicts from tourists.
Certainly, New Jersey is moving in the right direction. Gov. Chris Christie has proposed expanding his Drug Court program, which sends addicts to treatment rather than jail. His budget proposal for next year includes an additional $4.5 million for the program, which would expand treatment to approximately 1,000 addicts. But that proposed increase is 25 percent less than what was requested by program administrators.
Government funding for treatment beds is critical. Most rehab facilities depend on state and federal grants, which on the whole have been dwindling.
But insurance companies are another part of the problem. Because heroin detox is not considered a life-threatening health issue (tell that to an addict or his family), many insurers refuse to pay for full treatment.
Pennsylvania requires health insurers to provide coverage for treatment services considered necessary by a doctor. New York State lawmakers are now considering a similar law. New Jersey certainly ought to be considering a similar measure of its own.
The number of addicts is growing. Society has mostly accepted that addiction is a disease that can happen to anyone. But the number of treatment beds is not growing - or at least not fast enough. No rational society would consider that acceptable.