Legislation Will Increase State’s Prevention and Education Efforts, Improve Treatment and Recovery Options
TRENTON – Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vitale along with bipartisan legislators from both the Senate and General Assembly announced today 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.
“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 Senator 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.”
“We must take urgent action to reverse the number of prescription drug and opiate deaths occurring in New Jersey,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney. “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.”
Within the bill package is legislation that would ensure that those receiving prescription medications and their parents understand the addictive risks of the pills. Additionally, the package will include a review of schools’ substance abuse curriculum so that schools are properly and effectively teaching students about the dangers of prescription drug and opiate abuse. The bill package also includes legislation that would expand the New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program to increase participation, broaden access and improve surveillance by requiring doctors to register and cross reference the online database when prescribing medications of an addictive nature.
“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. “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.”
“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. “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.”
The bill package seeks to improve the state’s treatment and recovery options for those with substance abuse problems. It includes legislation that would increase the Medicaid reimbursement rate for behavioral health care services in hopes to expand the number of doctors serving Medicaid patients. According to Senate testimony provided by Susan Foster, Vice President and Director of Policy Analysis at CASA, more than 50,000 New Jersey residents seek and are denied substance abuse treatment each year because their insurance plans do not cover it, they can not afford a portion or all of the expenses, or there is a lack of treatment capacity.
“This multi-faceted problem cannot be addressed by law enforcement measures alone or by ignoring it as has been done for decades. It requires evidence-based healthcare strategies and treatments aimed at the root causes of addiction,” said Assemblyman Herb Conaway, Jr. M.D., D-Burlington, Chair of the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee. “Policy-makers inside and outside of medicine have an obligation to focus much needed attention on the physical and emotional problems which lead addiction. If we in society can at last do that, we together can save countless lives in the long run.”
Senator Vitale is working with colleagues on bills to remove barriers for individuals who need substance abuse treatment and to increase the number of doctors who take Medicaid patients. One bill would remove licensure red tape for substance abuse facilities, another would help patients deal with insurance claims, and a third bill would prohibit insurance companies from reviewing – and then denying – doctors’ orders for treatment.
“Opiate addiction is destroying families and whole communities,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, Chair of the Assembly Human Services Committee. “It’s pervasive in nature because it has become far too easy to get a hold of, while access to treatment is harder and harder to come by. Chief among the many things this comprehensive package of bills will do is increase access to behavioral health services. Far too many people are being turned away from treatment each year so this is an absolute imperative if we are going to properly address the opiate addiction crisis.”
An expansion of the Overdose Prevention Act will be introduced to expand access to Naloxone and other overdose antidotes to law enforcement entities and provide that syringe access programs carry and dispense the antidote to needle exchange participants.
“The availability of heroin and the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs is at a crisis level,” said Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini, R-Monmouth. “Our responsibility as policy makers is to work together to implement a comprehensive, proactive strategy that attacks this problem from all angles. Too many lives are being lost to addiction across New Jersey – we are in a state of emergency. This bill package is an excellent legislative step, needed as part of a comprehensive approach to eradicating substance abuse and encouraging recovery in New Jersey.”
Also in the package are three bills relating to substance abuse of incarcerated individuals. Drug and alcohol addiction is a huge problem for both New Jersey’s and the nation’s prison population. A 2010 study from The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that 65 percent of all those incarcerated meet the medical criteria for substance abuse addiction. The legislation would help enroll more incarcerated individuals in pre-trial treatment programs covered by Medicaid, ensure that prison-based mental health programs are based on the most appropriate expertise and experiences and would allow those who are in prison-based drug treatment programs to use medication-assisted treatments such as Methadone.
The legislation was spurred by the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse’s Task Force on Heroin and Other Opiate Use by New Jersey’s Youth and Young Adult’s 2014 Report, the State Commission of Investigation’s Scenes from an Epidemic as well as advocates and families.
Many of the bills will be introduced in the Senate during tomorrow’s quorum call.