FIGHTING THE PRESCRIPTION DRUG AND HEROIN EPIDEMIC: WHAT THE SENATE SPONSORS ARE SAYING

Democratic and Republican members of the New Jersey State Senate announced today that they will introduce a comprehensive bill package to tackle the heroin and prescription drug epidemic that is occurring across the state. The package, consisting of 21 bills, will focus on the need to improve paths to evidence-based prevention, treatment and recovery efforts for those addicted to opiates.

“Easy access to prescription drugs that are left sitting in people’s medicine cabinets often is a gateway to serious addictions for young people looking for ways to get high,” said Senator Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic), sponsor of S-2369 and S-2370. “By alleviating the core problem of unused drugs in the home with increased awareness and education on proper disposal and more places for people to drop off leftover prescription medication, we can remove these temptations from the household.”

“We must take urgent action to reverse the number of prescription drug and opiate deaths occurring in New Jersey,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem). “Last year alone, we lost over 550 people to this disease, many of them young adults. Throughout the fall, the Legislature will be tackling this important issue to ensure that we do not lose any more of our residents to overdose death.”

“A coordinated law enforcement effort to remove heroin and opiates from our streets is needed to stop a supply that is growing increasingly dangerous for New Jersey’s youth,” said Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee Vice Chairman Fred Madden (D-Gloucester and Camden), sponsor of S-2372 creating an Opioid Law Enforcement Coordinating Task Force. “Through this task force, we can provide law enforcement, physicians, pharmacists and other health care professionals with the resources necessary to identify the source of these drugs and connect those who need help with the correct treatment options.”

“In battling the state’s growing heroin epidemic, we need to ensure that those seeking treatment have access to effective substance abuse providers,” said Senator Dawn Addiego (R-Burlington, Camden and Atlantic), sponsor of S-2373. “This legislation will help us to understand which treatment facilities work well, which need improvement, and will help more people to successfully overcome addiction.”

“We know that many of the pills used by abusers are obtained through prescriptions obtained from multiple doctors, filled at different pharmacies or diverted from the intended recipient by relatives with access to fill a patient’s prescriptions,” said Senator Jim Holzapfel (R-Ocean), sponsor of S-1998. “Our efforts to strengthen the Prescription Monitoring Program will help us to identify and prevent this type of drug abuse at the source.”

“Prevention and treatment are essential to addressing drug abuse in our state, and a big part of that is public awareness,” said Senator Joe Kyrillos (R-Monmouth), sponsor of S-2370 and S-2047. “Our bipartisan efforts will raise awareness on many fronts, including the improper disposal of unused prescription medications which is a direct threat to human health and a direct contributor to drug abuse, particularly among teenagers. Pharmacists and prescribers will be accountable for educating patients about how to properly dispose of unused drugs, specifically through an expanding state drop-off program. We are also going to improve, update and make safer programs at alcohol and drug abuse treatment centers by adding accountability and transparency to those providing such vital services.”

“Educating students about the dangers of substance abuse is an important piece of a comprehensive effort to address addiction and reclaim lives,” said Senator Diane Allen (R-Burlington), sponsor of S-2367. “As a part of that effort we need to make sure the curriculum used in schools is based on the latest and best research and practices available.”

“Without a clear and informed way to gather data and statistics on our young people – their thoughts and activities – we may never fully understand some of the issues that face students in New Jersey, such as prescription drug and heroin abuse,” said Senator Shirley K. Turner (D-Mercer and Hunterdon), sponsor of S-2029, which would enhance data collection of New Jersey young people through surveys.  “By changing the way we anonymously deliver surveys to our students, we may gain important information that can help guide policy decisions for years to come.”

“Maintaining sobriety during college can be extremely difficult for those young people recovering from substance abuse problems,” said Senator Peter J. Barnes, III (D-Middlesex), sponsor of S-2371 and S-2377. “We have colleges and institutions, such as RutgersUniversity in New Brunswick, which are leading the way in helping their students overcome these problems with programs such as recovery housing. Taking these working models and extending them to colleges throughout the state will benefit students across New Jersey by providing a clean and sober living environment.”

“The loss of life to heroin and prescription drugs has reached epidemic proportions here in New Jersey and it is time that we take a comprehensive look at ways we can reduce the occurrences of these overdoses,” said Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vitale (D-Middlesex). “The war-on-drugs approach has not worked. The legislation does not seek to punish those who are suffering from addiction. Instead, we have taken the approach that would improve access to education and treatment. By reviewing ways to educate parents and families on the risks of becoming addicted to prescription medication and ensuring those who need help can gain access to it, we can reverse the rapid trend of increasing opiate addiction and overdose deaths across the state. We cannot continue to stand idly by and allow more of our children to succumb to the disease of addiction.”

“Over the past few years we have had great success in increasing access to drug court for incarcerated individuals, rerouting people from costly prison stays and into treatment programs that can really change their lives,” said Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), sponsor of S-2379. S-2380 and S-2381, bills aimed at reducing opiate abuse by incarcerated individuals. “By continuing to assist this population in getting the treatment they need, we can continue to reduce recidivism rates, reduce the prison population and help people become productive members of society.”

“The abuse of heroin and prescription drugs in New Jersey is a deadly crisis hitting virtually every community, and the only way we’re going to beat it is with a devoted bipartisan effort,” said Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean (R-Union, Morris, Somerset), sponsor of S-2369. “This package that we are rolling out today marks a change in how we deal with drug abuse, especially where it’s most dangerous: in our younger population. Prevention and treatment legislation, such as the expansion of anonymous drug drops to any law enforcement agency in the state can prevent long-term health effects and rampant drug abuse, especially among teenagers.”

“Opioid abuse and trafficking is an issue that crosses the boundaries of individual communities, making it paramount that law enforcement work to address this plague from a regional perspective,” said Senator Steven Oroho (R-Sussex, Warren, Morris), sponsor of S-2372. “Establishing the Statewide Opioid Law Enforcement Task Force brings a collective approach to identifying and stopping the spread of these drugs at their source.”

“Schools across the state are responsible for teaching our children about drugs, their negative effects and how to avoid them,” said Senator Richard J. Codey (D-Essex and Morris), sponsor of S-2367, legislation to review core-curriculum content standards as they relate to drug abuse. “We must review what our schools are teaching our kids about substance abuse, and ensure that they are doing it in a way that is not only evidence-based but can be most impactful.”

“The sheer numbers of those suffering from drug abuse – particularly abuse of prescription drugs and heroin – has exploded over the past few years and more and more residents are in need of treatment options,” said Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-Essex), sponsor of S-2368, a supplemental appropriation to support substance abuse prevention programs. “Unfortunately, as the number of people suffering with drug addictions grows, the gap between need and availability of treatment does as well.  We must invest in substance abuse treatment programs, so that we can provide care and aid to those who are looking to get clean and have productive, drug-free lives.”

“It’s clear that we need to work to address opioid abuse and addiction from multiple fronts,” said Senator Robert Singer (R-Monmouth, Ocean), sponsor of S-2375 and S-2378. “This initiative will help to address key components by increasing access to lifesaving treatment and by allowing for more coordinated and comprehensive mental health and behavioral health care.”

“Armed with the correct information and education, I believe that patients, parents and doctors can make smart decisions on what is the appropriate medical treatment and medications for each individual person,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), sponsor of S-1998 and S-2366. “When a patient is fully aware of the addictive nature of the prescriptions they receive, they may choose to take the pills cautiously, but also to dispose of leftover pills appropriately. Additionally, doctors should know their patients’ history of prescription drug use, and with better recording and monitoring thorough the state’s prescription monitoring program, that can be achieved. This can stop addictions from forming.”

“Navigating the insurance bureaucracy can be difficult but for those suffering from a mental illness or a substance abuse problem, it can truly be a nightmare,” said Senator Bob Gordon (D-Bergen and Passaic), sponsor of S-324, S-2180 and S-2376. “By advocating on behalf of those with behavioral health care conditions and removing barriers when dealing with insurance companies, we can ensure that individuals are able to receive the treatment and help they need to recover and heal.”