TCNJ’s public health program educates community groups and municipal organizations across NJ about decriminalization.
EWING, NJ, December 08, 2022 /24-7PressRelease/ — In early October, President Biden announced pardons for thousands of people convicted of federal cannabis possession charges. The move comes after decades of what many call a failed war on drugs and a snowballing opioid addiction crisis throughout the U.S. With 2022 setting a grim record of 3,000 overdose deaths so far in New Jersey, public health students and faculty in the newly rebranded School of Nursing and Health Sciences (SNHS) at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) educate state-wide law enforcement and community organizations about treating addiction as an illness — not a crime.
Partnering with the Open Society Foundations, TCNJ faculty members Dr. Natasha Patterson, Assistant Professor of Public Health, Dr. Michael Mitchell, Assistant Professor of Criminology and African American studies, and Dr. Sandy Gibson, Professor and Clinical Coordinator in Counselor Education, brief key community stakeholders on the repercussions the war on drugs has had on health systems, the criminal justice system and other critical sectors of society.
“Decriminalizing drugs as a harm-reduction approach is an evidence-based public health strategy and the first step in correcting a wrong that has been in place since the beginning of the war on drugs,” Dr. Patterson explains. Concluding in December 2022, Dr. Patterson plans on drawing from the state-wide decriminalization workshops, as well as another research project focused on harm reduction awareness among peer recover specialists and patient navigators, to establish a five-course harm reduction certificate for students and community members.
Former graduate student, Jordyn Block, Class of 2021, helped organize these workshops with TCNJ faculty. She reflects on her experience, explaining, “As a grad student, I applaud the work being done to educate others on the benefits of decriminalization. It’s opening up conversations that we should have had long ago and giving individuals an opportunity to be honest about how they feel on the subject. In my opinion, it was not many years ago that these conversations were only spoken about behind closed doors. Let’s continue to discuss these issues, because they benefit not only me, as a student, but the generations before and after me.”
Discussing the nation’s current approach to opioid addiction, Dr. Michael Mitchell says, “Despite the implementation of harm reduction strategies to help prevent drug overdoses, its practice is not universally accepted. In the U.S., our established drug policies are still largely politically driven rather than informed by empirical evidence.” And explaining how the decriminalization workshops have been received by community groups, Dr. Sandy Gibson, remarks, “Too often, people are unaware of the history of our drug policy or the racial discrepancy with which it is policed today. If you ask people if they care about someone who uses drugs, almost everyone says yes. If you ask them if they believe this person they care about belongs in a cage for years, or even decades, the answer is always no.”
TCNJ’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences’ Dean Carole Kenner explains, “Our faculty and students continue to embody scholarship in action, bringing innovative ideas and cutting-edge research beyond the borders of the College. We stay committed to using our scholar-mentorship model to not only deliver top-of-class education, but to help communities across New Jersey.” The School rebranded in 2022 to reflect its robust and diverse, cross-disciplinary health science curricula.
TCNJ’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences educates aspiring health professionals to become future leaders across the healthcare industry. Faculty work closely with local healthcare partners to provide students with applicative skills and foundational knowledge. The nationally acclaimed school is dedicated to preparing individuals — through programs in nursing, public health, exercise science, and physical education teaching — for the many rewards of guiding people, communities and populations toward improved health outcomes. The School is nationally recognized as a Healthy People 2030 Champion.
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