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Rutgers Law School and Vital Strategies Partner to Help People Fight Discrimination and Promote Rights of People Who Use Drugs

New Initiative to Provide Free Legal Services to New Jerseyans Who Use Drugs  

Rutgers Law School and Vital Strategies Partner to Help People Fight Discrimination and Promote Rights of People Who Use Drugs  

Over 107,000 people in the United States died of a drug overdose last year, with deaths rising fastest among Black and Indigenous communities across the country. In 2021, New Jersey had more than 3,000 overdose deaths reflecting similar racial disparities. This crisis is exacerbated by the predominance of a punitive response to drug use in the United States, which destabilizes the lives of people who use drugs, inflicting harms like loss of housing, separation of families, and denial of social assistance or life-saving medication treatment, further increasing risk of overdose. Some of these harms could be avoided or blunted if people had legal support to navigate the complexities of these systemic barriers.  

To address the legal challenges that people who use drugs face in New Jersey, Rutgers Law School and Vital Strategies announce the launch of the Law Center for People Who Use Drugs. This new initiative will provide a broad range of legal services at no cost to people who use drugs in New Jersey.  

“With this generous grant from Vital Strategies, a new legal services center, the Rutgers Law Center for People Who Use Drugs, has been created within Rutgers Law Associates,” explained Rutgers Law Associates Managing Attorney Andrew J. Rothman. “Rutgers Law Associates continues to provide general practice legal services to low- and moderate-income New Jerseyans outside of this center, and to victims of domestic violence and other crime from within the Rutgers Crime Victims Law Center, which was created within Rutgers Law Associates in 2020.”

“Jailing, stigmatizing or punishing someone who uses drugs won’t help them become healthier, but it may lead to a lifetime of harmful consequences, including increased risk of overdose death,” said Dionna King, Technical Advisor at Vital Strategies. “Punitive approaches are especially detrimental to the lives of Black people and other people of color who are disproportionately targeted and marginalized. The Law Center for People Who Use Drugs can help ensure people know their rights. It will mean fewer people denied basic needs such as housing, employment, and healthcare and fewer people at increased risk of experiencing a fatal overdose.”  

The Center will be staffed by qualified lawyers and law school graduates in the Rutgers Law Associates program who are specially trained in addressing the complex legal issues and barriers that people who use drugs often encounter. They will help clients with things such as: employment challenges related to past charges or records, restoration of visiting and parental rights, and appealing denials of Social Security Disability benefits. The team at the Law Center will also support clients in fighting discriminatory rental policies and workplace practices that may inhibit them from obtaining stable housing or a job. The attorneys at the Law Center can also help people obtain documents, such as state ID’s and social security cards needed to access services such as healthcare, housing, and state benefits.  

Potential clients can access these legal services at Rutgers campuses in both Newark and Camden. Harm reduction and health service providers can contact the Law Center on the behalf of clients that are eligible for free legal services. People can also be directly referred to the program through their local Harm Reduction organization.   

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About Vital Strategies’ Overdose Prevention Program
Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. In November 2021, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a five-year, $120 million investment to help combat the overdose crisis in the hard-hit states of Kentucky, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina and Wisconsin. The initiative builds on work of the past three years in Michigan and Pennsylvania, launched in 2018 with $50 million and expands the work to promote improved federal policies. The partnership between Vital Strategies, Pew Charitable Trusts, Johns Hopkins University, CDC Foundation, and Global Health Advocacy Incubator is helping to strengthen and scale up evidence-based, data-driven policies and interventions to reduce overdose risks and save lives.   

Learn more at https://www.vitalstrategies.org/programs/overdose-prevention/   

About Rutgers Law Associates
Founded in 2014, Rutgers Law Associates (RLA) is the nation’s first and largest postgraduate law residency program. RLA is the law practice within the Rutgers Law Associates Fellowship Program and is comprised of lawyers recently admitted to practice law. All of these newly minted attorneys are deeply committed to serving the needs of moderate-income New Jerseyans who often cannot afford quality legal services at today’s market rates. Under the constant supervision of Managing Attorney Andrew Rothman, a lawyer and legal educator with more than 25 years of experience, the attorneys provide legal assistance in a wide range of areas.

Learn more at https://law.rutgers.edu/legal-services-rutgers-law-associates

Media Contacts :
Vital Strategies: Tony Newman  tnewman@vitalstrategies.org; 646-335-5384  
Rutgers Law School: Shanida Carter, shanida.carter@rutgers.edu