The New Jersey Department of Human Services will use federal coronavirus relief fund resources up to $25 million to help mental health and substance use disorder providers remain open and accessible during the ongoing pandemic.

Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson said throughout the pandemic, it has been the priority of the Murphy administration to help support mental health and addiction needs.

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The most important step taken, she said, was the expansion of telehealth services so that during the stay-at-home order, individuals were able to access counseling and other services remotely.

Johnson said the state knows how critical it is to make sure mental health and substance abuse disorder services remain open and available to residents. A portion of the federal relief funds will help providers pay for the unexpected, unbudgeted costs they're now facing because of the pandemic.

Those costs include things like personal protective equipment, staffing, COVID-19 testing, and redesigning the footprint of their facilities to make sure people are socially distanced. Residential treatment settings, outpatient and recovery clinics, opioid treatment programs and other behavioral health providers are all facing new, unplanned expenses, she said.

A system has been set up to let providers share their expenses so the state can reimburse them directly, Johnson said. The state is seeking details on not only what they spent on PPE, but also on any of the emergency rates they paid for staffing so they could continue to remain open during the pandemic.

Mental health and addiction has always been a critical priority but it's even more important during the pandemic, Johnson said. She added that everyone is experiencing some level of anxiety and fear with the unknown of the virus.

That heightened need is part of why the state expanded its Mental Health Cares line, 866-202-HELP, available 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. There is also a videophone mental health helpline for American Sign Language users at 973-870-0677.

The state has also distributed distribution of more than 11,000 doses of the overdose antidote naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, to emergency medical services throughout the state. Johnson said from Sept. 24 through 26, there will be a free naloxone distribution program at participating pharmacies across New Jersey.

Last year, the same was done and 32,000 free doses of narcan was distributed to residents across the Garden State. Johnson said 322 pharmacies will be participating. People can come in and get their free naloxone with no prescription or appointment needed.

The state also offers its 844-REACH NJ hotline to connect individuals who are experiencing addiction to treatmen. The hotline also includes new messaging about the importance of asking about medication to support recovery.

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