Mukherji & Vainieri Huttle Bill Package to Combat Substance Abuse, Help Save Lives Approved by Assembly Panel

One Bill Named “Nick Rohdes’ Law” to Honor Colts Neck Man Who Lost His Life to Addiction in February

(TRENTON) – A two-bill package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Raj Mukherji and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to empower families with greater tools to help save their loves ones from addiction was approved by an Assembly panel on Thursday.

The first bill (A-3227) would help families get treatment for a loved one by amending the state law governing involuntary commitment to treatment to clarify that the term “mental illness” includes substance use disorder if an individual’s substance use makes them “dangerous to self” or “dangerous to others or property.”

“We need to approach addictions the same way we do any other disease or illness,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “We’ve heard of far too many parents grieving the loss of a child because there was only so much they could do for them within our existing laws. It’s time to give family members greater power to save their loved ones.”

“As our law stands now, family members’ hands are tied when it comes to getting help for a loved one with a substance abuse problem, unless the addict chooses to get help themselves,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), Chair of the Assembly Human Services Committee. “As a parent, not being able to stop your child from slowly killing themselves is an unimaginable agony. This change will empower families to get their loved ones the help they need.”

Under the bill, “substance use disorder” is defined as it is in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The term includes, but is not limited to, alcohol, cannabis, hallucinogens, inhalants, opioids, sedatives, and stimulants.

Current law provides, in part, that being “dangerous to self” means that “by reason of mental illness a person has threatened or attempted suicide or serious bodily harm, or has behaved in such a manner as to indicate” inability “to satisfy the need for nourishment, essential medical care or shelter, so that it is probable that substantial bodily injury, serious physical harm or death will result within the reasonably foreseeable future.”

The term “dangerous to others or property” means that “by reason of mental illness there is a substantial likelihood that the person will inflict serious bodily harm upon another person or cause serious property damage within the reasonably foreseeable future. For both terms, the law provides that the determination is to “take into account a person’s history, recent behavior, and any recent act, threat or serious psychiatric deterioration.”

The second bill (A-3228), known as “Nick Rohdes’ Law,” would amend the state’s substance abuse treatment laws in relation to the regulation of sober living homes.

The bill is named in honor of the memory of Nick Rohdes, a young man from Colts Neck who lost his battle with substance abuse at the age of 24 in February 2014. Nick had been in a sober living home and was evicted without any notification to family or next of kin when he relapsed and lost his life to addiction.

In order to help prevent more of these tragedies and ensure a supportive environment when an addict most needs it, the bill would require transitional sober living homes, halfway houses, and other residential aftercare facilities to provide notice to a patient’s spouse, parent, guardian, designated next-of-kin, or other designated emergency contact upon the patient’s release from treatment at the facility, as long as such notice is provided in a manner that is consistent with federal HIPAA and other confidentiality requirements.

“The road to recovery for addicts is a continual one and having support and oversight in the tenuous early stages is crucial,” said Mukherji. “If a person leaves a sober living home for any reason, notifying their next of kin can mean the difference between life and death as we’ve heard in some situations.”

Additionally, the bill would clarify existing statutes to give licensing and regulating authority regarding the state’s residential substance abuse facilities, including sober living homes and halfway houses, to the Department of Human Services. Currently, the existing state statute, which dates back to 1975, places jurisdiction over these facilities with the Department of Health’s Division of Alcoholism, which is no longer in existence.

“Sober living homes, if run properly, can be an important transitional facility for recovering addicts,” said Vainieri Huttle. “Sadly, we’ve heard a number of stories where, without proper oversight, they became a haven for recovering addicts to die in the shadows. We need to make sure they are being regulated properly so that this doesn’t happen.”

The bills were approved by the Assembly Human Services Committee, which is chaired by Vainieri Huttle. They now await consideration by the full Assembly.