By: Terence Cullen
Original Source: nydailynews.com
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has become an unexpected leader in the fight against drugs and prescription pain killers.
At a personal level, he’s gone public about losing a friend to drug addiction. Now it’s one of his final policy issues as he leaves elected office.
The Garden State is poised to spend at least $15 million on an anti-drug advertising campaign, according to local reports. He’s also recruited local sports teams to help fight the drug epidemic, which killed close to 1,000 state residents in 2015.
On the federal level, the Republican has become President Trump’s de facto anti-drug czar.
After he was passed over for a White House job, Christie decided to focus on issues back home in New Jersey. But Trump still appointed him the chairman of the President’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.
Christie, who ran for President before endorsing Trump, led a 90-minute meeting in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to discuss combating drug addiction with a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) told NJ Advance Media the meeting, also attended by Trump aides, was a “listening session” for Christie.
The issue has become a major topic for President Trump. More than 52,000 people died nationwide in 2015 from drug overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Christie — whose reputation was marred by the Bridgegate scandal that led to the conviction of two allies — has spent his final year as governor fighting a rash of drug addiction increases. His office didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
Overdose deaths in New Jersey jumped more than 16% between 2014 and 2015, according to the CDC.
New Jersey has embarked on an advertising campaign aimed at getting people help — and earlier this month Christie’s office unveiled a 30-second ad, the latest of several it’s run since the year began.
Recovering addict Vanessa Vitolo, 30, recounts in the media spot how her prescription drug addiction spiraled into a heroin addiction. Christie later appears in the ad explaining how his constituents can get help.
Vitolo traveled to the White House in March with Christie to tell President Trump about her personal struggle, one of several Garden Staters the second-term governor has recruited for the drug addiction campaign.
The New Jersey Devils a few weeks ago hosted Christie and 50 middle schoolers at the Prudential Center in Newark to give an anti-drug pledge.
Christie’s office earmarked $15 million of state money toward the anti-drug campaign, NJ Advance Media reported in March, citing public records. His office previously set aside $2.6 million for the effort, which began in January.
The estimated price tags have worried some of Christie’s political opponents.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, a Democrat and gubernatorial candidate, in March slammed the use of state money for ads featuring Christie.
“While opioid abuse is a significant issue in New Jersey and we must be vigilant in making resources available for any addict who wants to get clean and healthy, there are grave concerns about the self-serving way Gov. Christie is going about it,” he said in a statement to NBC News. “Governor Christie has misappropriated critical health care funding for women and infants to create television ads starring himself. The idea that putting Christie’s face on television is the best way to reach addicts and end the scourge of addiction defies common sense.”
Christie has gone public about losing a law school classmate to drug addiction. He spoke at a November 2015 campaign about a friend who died at a West Orange, N.J., hotel — alone with empty Percocet bottles and a bottle of Vodka.
The friend, a married father of three, got hooked on prescription painkillers around 2006 after treatment for a bad back, Christie has said.
“By every measure that we define success in this country this guy had it,” Christie said at the 2015 event. Even though the friend had everything, he was “a drug addict and he couldn’t get help and he’s dead. It can happen to anyone.”
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