New Jersey Laws Target Opioids & Overdose
In the fight against heroin and prescription painkillers, few states have battled as hard as New Jersey. Often regarded as New York’s younger sibling, New Jersey has been in the limelight frequently over the past decade thanks to a skyrocketing number of opioid addicts.
Consider that upwards of 5,000 New Jersey residents have overdosed and died during the last decade.
Consider that 741 people overdosed and died in 2013 alone. New Jersey officials say that number is likely to rise once 2014’s figures are released. So, what’s being done to stop this scourge of heroin and painkillers?
Well, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has long been a vocal supporter of innovate approaches to treating substance abuse. He continued this patter when, on February fifth, he signed into law three bills aimed at increasing heroin and painkiller treatment.
The laws, which I’ll touch on below, are the first step in a revolutionary, statewide shift. New Jersey is poised to move from a state decimated by opioid addiction and overdose, to a state at the forefront of the medical and social treatment of addiction.
In fact, State Senator Joseph Vitale, who first introduced these bills, had the following to say about New Jersey and Christie –
“It’s been years since this [opioid addiction and overdose] has been a crisis. The solutions and the ways to treat people suffering from it are going to take time to implement, but these are significant steps” (NJ.com)
What Do The New Laws Say?
The bills that Gov. Christie signed into law promise real change in the often fraught world of opioid addiction. Sounds good to me! But what do they actually say? What specifically are these new laws?
The first law offers increased immunity to first responders who administer Narcan, a popular “anti-overdose” medication. These are people like police officers, paramedics, needle exchange program workers, and many others who interact frequently with heroin and painkiller addicts.
Narcan has a pretty good track record in saving New Jersey residents’ lives. Since March of 2014, when Narcan use first became popular, it’s reversed upwards of 800 overdoses. That’s 800 saved lives!
Gov. Christie, in a statement, had the following to say about Narcan –
“Today, we are cementing in our laws those same protections for our first responders who are doing this incredible, lifesaving work every day under our statewide Narcan program. By doing so, we will have an even greater ability to save lives, reverse the effects of overdose and prevent tragedies with this life-saving treatment” (NJ.com).
The second law will require treatment centers to submit regular performance reports to the Department of Human Services. This will help to streamline the care offered at rehabs across the state. This’ll also cut down on the use of non-evidence based practices. These are things like equine therapy, which, while certainly helpful, doesn’t have a scientific basis.
The third law requires state jails to offer addiction and mental health services to inmates. Inmates will now be offered treatment by “the agency with the most appropriate expertise and experience” (Bill S-2380).
Not only will this offer increased mental health and substance abuse treatment to inmates, it will also allow the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services oversight in New Jersey’s jails. This is a wonderful step towards jails offering real rehabilitation, rather than simply housing criminals.
Michael Botticelli, the new White House Drug Czar, had the following to say about recent changes in how America is treating addiction –
“We have made important progress against the raise of prescription drug misuse and related deaths since we released our plan in 2011, but much more work lies ahead of us” (NJ.com).
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The Future of N.J. Drug Policy
Speaking of the continued work Botticelli mentioned above, New Jersey has many more drug reform bills currently in the state legislator.
State Senator Joseph Vitale didn’t only introduce the three bills Gov. Christie signed into law, he introduced a total of twenty-one bills this past fall. While a complete list of all twenty-one would be far too long for this article, find some below.
This would require general practitioners to inform patients of the dangers inherent to various prescription drugs (notably many opioids).
This would increase New Jersey state funding for addiction prevention by $5 million.
- S-1998 & A-3129
These would require all physicians to register for the Prescription Monitoring Program. This allows law enforcement to identify addicts going to multiple doctors and doctors who are overprescribing opioids.
- S-2372 & A-1436
These would create a Statewide Opioid Law Enforcement Task Force. Their job would be to investigate and prosecute those involved in the distribution of opioids.
- S-324 & A-2266
These would found the Behavioral Health Insurance Claim Advocacy Program, which would offer assistance and advocacy with insurance claims for those seeking addiction or mental illness treatment.
This would require all colleges in New Jersey to offer substance abuse recovery housing options (think a “dry dorm,” but one that’s actually dry).