According to the American Journal of Epidemiology, opioid/stimulant deaths among Black Americans have increased at more than three times the rate as non-Hispanic white people—particularly in eastern states. Between 2007 and 2019, the rate of Black Americans dying from opioids rose 575%.

The New Jersey Department of Human Services 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 Sarah 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 healthcare system.”

Adelman adds that 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.

Assistant Commissioner Valerie Mielke, who directs the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, 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.”

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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