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Senator Vitale provides an insider look at addiction and policy
October 20, 2014

Speaking to more than 50 alumni, faculty, and students, keynote speaker Senator Joseph F. Vitale presented “Addiction & Policy” at the annual Demone lecture on October 9, 2014.

Vitale (D-Middlesex) was first elected to the New Jersey State Senate in 1997 to represent the 19th legislative district, which includes the municipalities of Carteret, Perth Amboy, Sayreville, South Amboy and Woodbridge. He is chairman of the Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, and vice chair of the Labor Committee.

In his talk, Senator Vitale summarized key issues in delivering addiction-related services in New Jersey, and contextualized a package of 21 bills aimed at providing a public health response to the opiate epidemic in our state. He introduced the bills in August of this year.

“We can imprison drug dealers and even people with an addiction more than ever, but that’s not going to solve the problem,” said Senator Vitale. Rather than focusing solely on law enforcement, Vitale aims to look at the issue from a different point of view.

The package of bills reflects a comprehensive approach to addressing the opiate epidemic through four pillars of reform: education, prevention, treatment, and recovery. “If you do one thing, it’s like playing whack-a-mole. It pops up, you hit it, and then it pops up somewhere else,” explains Vitale.

Vitale acknowledges that the best way to avoid grid-lock in government is to have bipartisan support, which the 21-bill package has fortunately received. “This is not a liberal issue or a liberal idea... This is an issue that should be at the focus, and brought up in the context of bipartisanship,” said Vitale.

Vitale stated that “until we start talking about [addiction] as the same thing as heart disease, the same thing as cancer, the same thing as any chronic disease, we’re never going to get to the point where we’ll spend the necessary resources in a smart, evidence-based way, to continue down this path.”

Examples of issues that are currently moving through the legislature under the 21 bill package are improving information systems to allow health care providers to more easily identify prescription drug abusers, providing greater access to inpatient facilities and other resources for recovering addicts, and creating or improving educational and prevention programs that are proven to be effective through evidence based practices.

Following the talk, Vitale opened the floor for discussion with lecture participants. Attendees included students, researchers, practitioners, and parents and families of recovering addicts, all of whom contributed to the discussion about addiction and policy from various view points and perspectives.

View the full lecture online at

To contact Senator Vitale, please email

Senator Joseph Vitale’s lecture was presented through an endowed fund established by Harold W. and Marguerite F. Demone in order to provide the necessary resources for an annual lecture by a noted authority on the subject of alcohol and related addictions. This fund also provides up to three scholarships to MSW degree candidates who are completing field placements in a setting that involves work in alcohol abuse or other addictions. To support lectures and scholarships, please

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