December 7, 2012 saw the passing of one of New Jersey’s staunchest supporters of addiction treatment. Riley Regan, founding director of the New Jersey Division of Alcoholism, passed away from liver cancer at the age of 77. He spent his life championing the rights of people suffering from alcoholism and drug abuse, bringing an understanding to the issues based on his own successful battle with addiction.
Regan and the War on Drugs
Regan began his advocacy for addicts in the 1980s, during the height of the federal war on drugs. At the time, public opinion demonized addicts, blaming them for the nation’s drug problem. Incarceration was favored over treatment, with many people taking a “lock ‘em up” attitude.
In such an antagonistic atmosphere, advocating for drug and alcohol addiction treatment over punishment was an uphill battle, but one Regan was willing to fight. He was instrumental in the implementation of New Jersey’s Alcoholism Treatment and Rehabilitation Act, which decriminalized public drunkenness in the state and promoted alcoholism treatment and prevention.
Intoxicated Driver Resource Center
Regan also contributed to the development and implementation of New Jersey’s Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC), a program which requires a mandatory Alcohol and Highway Safety Education course and a drug or alcohol counseling program as requirements for restoring driver’s licenses after DUI convictions.
Regan held two masters degrees, one from John Hopkins School of Public Health and one from the University of Maryland School of Social Work. Well-known as a humble man with a gift for humanizing addiction issues, Regan taught on drug and alcohol issues at universities across the country. He spent 20 years serving on the faculty at the Rutgers University Center for Alcohol Studies.
Regan received multiple awards and recognition over the course of his lifetime’s service. Among other accolades, he was recognized as the New Jersey Social Worker of the Year, the New Jersey Human Services Administrator of the Year, and received the Newark Star Register’s “Jerseyman of the Year” award.
In addition, Regan was one of only five state employees ever honored by the National Governor’s Association. The New Jersey General Assembly recognized him on five occasions for his tireless work on drug and alcohol issues.
A Shining Example
Riley Regan leaves an impressive legacy, not just within the state of New Jersey, but across the nation. His determination to see addicts recognized as victims rather than criminals ignited the movement toward court-sponsored treatment facilities, where addicts have the option of seeking help instead of incarceration for crimes.
Regan’s influence affected thousands of people during his lifetime, and his legacy will continue to improve the lives of people living with drug dependency disorders. He has proven people can successfully overcome addiction and lead a productive, meaningful life.