Two new initiatives are awaiting governor approval, while other legislation remains in limbo.
Opioid addiction is sweeping New Jersey and the nation and leaving a devastating death toll in its wake. In 2015 there were upwards of a thousand heroin related fatalities surpassing the previous year’s statistics exponentially.
New Jersey is fighting back with proposed legislation and initiatives in hopes of curtailing the heroin deluge. There are currently two bills on Gov. Chris Christie’s desk related to opioid abuse and its dire consequences, and other bills are under discussion and awaiting approval by assembly boards. Furthermore, a program consisting of 21 bills was announced two years ago and have since plodded along in a virtual standstill awaiting decisive action by legislators.
One of the most controversial of these measures (S-2366/A-3712) would require doctors to talk with patients about addiction when they prescribe opioids. This piece of legislation has since passed senate where it sits awaiting a hearing in the Assembly Health Committee.
The two bills on Christie’s desk would make it compulsory for doctors to check a state database of all opioid prescriptions when writing new prescriptions. It would also allow criminal offenders in drug court to receive medication like methadone to assist in their detox and recovery. The new program would also require state educational institutions to build housing for students who are in substance abuse treatment. It would also authorize the state attorney general to direct state wide anti-opioid abuse efforts.
If enacted, these measures would expand on earlier legislation extending the impunity offered under the state’s Overdose Prevention Act to indemnify medical and health professionals and mandate the state to develop a strategy to address the growing mental and substance abuse health concerns of incarcerated criminals. Exponents argue the significance of expanding on the earlier movements, referencing studies findings that many medical professionals still underestimate the severity of health concerns related to wantonly prescribing opioids.
Sen. Joseph F. Vitale (D-Middlesex), an outspoken advocate of many of these proposals, indicated that lawmakers decided to pursue a gradual, step-by-step gameplan to usher in the bills both to improve their odds of being pushed through and because it was essential to address the different facets of the issue – including preventative and educational measures alongside the mainstays of treatment and recovery. While this has led to many bills being advanced, it casts doubt on whether the remaining measures will become ratified.
Angelo Valente, executive director of Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, called the bill requiring doctors to disclose the dangers of addiction, “absolutely necessary.”
He cited a recent study by Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health that discovered almost half of family-practice,internal-medicine and general-practice doctors were under the false assumption that abuse-deterrent opioids — used to categorize those drugs which are intended to avert their being insufflated, or snorted — are less addictive than their counterparts. Although difficult to bypass and abuse via insufflation means and methods they are still just as highly addictive and dangerous.
Incidentally, one-third of doctors in the study mistakenly attributed the majority of prescription drug abuse to alternative means other than ingesting. Studies point to between anywhere from 64 percent and 97 percent of abuse is through ingesting, as opposed to injecting or snorting.
Valente also described the bill as being instrumental in that it will require both cooperation from the patient and doctor to recognize the inherent dangers of addiction and dependency that arise from traditional Western based modalities for pain management and also inform the patient of more holistic and homeopathic alternatives. This puts the onus of the dangers of addiction square on the hands of the patient and removing the doctor from any wrongdoing or malpractice.
Valente is optimistic that both parts of the new laws will be pivotal in helping to put a dent in the recent string of heroin and prescription related drug deaths in New Jersey. He asserts that his organization has held ongoing education symposiums being held on the matter to raise awareness and inform the healthcare professionals of the consequences of negligence on their end.
Governor Christie has pointed to his personal experience on the board of Mendham-based treatment center Daytop Village, as well as the overdose of a close personal friend as motivations for his role in ushering in the new legislation.