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Scutari-Vitale Bill Would Allow for the Use of Psilocybin to Treat Mental Health Disorders

Trenton – The Senate Health Committee today approved a bill authored by Senate President Nick Scutari and Senator Joe Vitale that would establish a framework for the regulated production and use of psilocybin as a behavioral health treatment.

The legislation, a committee substitute for S-2283, would establish a 15-member advisory board in the Department of Health that would create specific requirements and standards over an 18-month period before the program is operational.

The bipartisan bill, entitled the “Psilocybin Behavioral Health Access and Services Act,” is cosponsored by Senator Holly Schepisi, Senator Andrew Zwicker, Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez, and Senator Declan O’Scanlon.

“Scientific research is showing that psilocybin can be a safe and effective treatment for severe depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders,” said Senator Scutari (D-Union/Somerset). “This bill will create a framework for a program that offers professionally-supervised services to qualified patients who would benefit from psilocybin treatment. This has the potential to make a real difference in the lives of those who suffer adverse behavioral health conditions.”

Clinical trials and research are showing psilocybin to be an effective treatment for PTSD, substance use disorder, anorexia and chronic pain, as well as depression and anxiety. A recent study showed that two psilocybin treatments could relieve the symptoms of major depression for as long as a year. A non-addictive drug derived from mushrooms, psilocybin has been officially designated a “breakthrough therapy” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“We are only just beginning to grasp the true breadth of the number of New Jerseyans facing daily struggles with debilitating issues such as severe depression, chronic pain and addiction, as well as other health disorders. We also know that finding effective treatment for such ailments can be difficult,” said Senator Vitale, Chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. “Meantime, recent studies and continuing research show psilocybin, taken under proper medical supervision, can bring relief to those suffering, and improve quality of life. Mental health disorders are not a one-size fits all category – psilocybin might be the one treatment that works for thousands of people in our state.”

The measure would allow for the establishment of licensed psilocybin production facilities, treatment centers and testing operations in New Jersey. Local officials would have to approve any production facility or service center in their community. Treatment centers would not be allowed within 500 feet of an elementary or secondary school, according to the bill.

The legislation specifies that qualifying patients would have to be at least 21 years old and obtain a referral from a qualified professional, such as a physician, psychiatrist, psychologist or clinical social worker. A defined list of eligible health conditions would be developed by the advisory board before prospective patients could receive treatment.

The bill mandates a three-step treatment process: a preparatory session to screen the patients and determine their treatment goals; an administration session when the psilocybin is consumed under the supervision of a qualified “service administrator,” and an after-treatment therapy session to discuss the experiences of the session, assess its outcome and determine follow-up care.

The advisory board would also be responsible for developing specific standards for training the service administrators, licensing requirements and safety protocols, including a requirement for an on-site medical director or a contract with an EMS service.

After the program is operational, the Health Department would be required to collect data from the providers on patient experiences and treatment outcomes. The information would be used to assess the success of the program’s services.

The Psilocybin Advisory Board would include the Health Commissioner, the Attorney General, the Adjutant General, the Deputy Commissioner for Health Services, or their designees, a Health Department official familiar with public health programs, and a representative of the Public Health Council. The nine public members with relevant expertise would be appointed by the Governor.

The board would be required to develop its recommendations within 18 months and submit them to the Health Department to adopt its regulations.

Psilocybin was legalized in Oregon and voters in Colorado approved a legalization plan expected to be implemented this year. Legalization bills have been introduced in other states as well, including Connecticut and California.

The committee vote was 6-2.

Statements from the cosponsors:

“Given the proper therapeutic setting, medical research studies from Johns Hopkins, Yale and others have shown that psilocybin can have a profound impact in treating certain mental health symptoms,” said Senator Schepisi (R-39). “This bill would enable New Jersey to implement new innovative medical treatments to address the mental health crisis impacting residents of the Garden State. By allowing referred individuals to receive supervised psilocybin services in conjunction with supportive psychological services, we can provide clinically significant sustained reduction in symptoms without adverse side effects to thousands of individuals suffering from issues like PTSD and major depressive disorders.”

“Amid a growing mental health crisis, we must do all we can to help patients receive the treatment that works best for their needs,” said Senator Zwicker (D-Middlesex/Mercer/Somerset/Hunterdon). “Research has shown that with proper safety precautions, psilocybin can be a relatively low-risk treatment for severe depression and anxiety. Expanding mental health treatment options to include the use of psychedelics under careful regulation and monitoring will benefit patients looking for alternative care and potentially save lives.”

“Psilocybin is showing real promise in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, which afflicts a large number of veterans who have served under dangerous conditions,” said Senator Cruz-Perez (D-Camden). “Traditional treatments have not always been effective for those who suffer more severe symptoms. This could be an effective way of treating PTSD, of alleviating suffering and even saving lives.”

“Years of medical research have produced robust evidence to suggest that the use of psilocybin-assisted therapy can have long-lasting positive effects for patients with certain behavioral and mental health issues,” said Senator O’Scanlon (R-13). “I think it’s time for New Jersey to start thinking outside-the-box when it comes to addressing our growing mental health crisis and should embrace the potential of this innovative medical therapy. Legalizing safe, supervised psilocybin services can help bring healing and hope to individuals who’ve exhausted other treatment options and are in need of life-changing therapy.”