TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner restricting initial prescriptions for opioid drugs to a seven day supply cleared the full Senate today.
“Our state is fighting a serious and deadly heroin epidemic,” said Senator Turner (D-Hunterdon/Mercer). “Addiction is killing or hospitalizing many of our young people and destroying families. With four out of five new heroin users beginning their addictions with prescription pain medication, we need to stop heroin addiction at the source. This bill will help to turn the tide of addiction and prevent the overuse and misuse of prescription pain killers.”
The bill, S-2035, provides that a healthcare professional may not issue a first prescription for an opioid drug in a quantity exceeding a seven-day supply. The restriction on initial prescriptions for opioid drugs will not apply to prescriptions issued to patients receiving hospice care. Additionally, subsequent prescriptions for the drug may be issued in any quantity that complies with applicable State and federal laws, provided that the prescription is not deemed to be an initial prescription, the practitioner determines the prescription is necessary and appropriate to the patient’s treatment needs, and the practitioner determines that issuance of the subsequent prescription does not present an undue risk of abuse, addiction, or diversion.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, opioids are medications that relieve pain. They reduce the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain and affect those brain areas controlling emotion, which diminishes the effects of a painful stimulus. Medications that fall within this class include hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin), oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin, Percocet).
If enacted, New Jersey would join several other states that have similar legislation limiting opioid prescription including Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts.
According to published reports there were 781 heroin-related overdose deaths in New Jersey in 2014, which is more than double since 2010. The New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction reported that 28,332 entered drug treatment in 2014, with an addiction to heroin or other opiate. That is nearly half of the 64,766 people that sought drug treatment that year. Additionally, New Jersey’s overdose rate is more than triple the national rate reported by the Centers for Disease Control.
The bill will apply to prescriptions for opioid drugs for which the patient has never been issued a prescription, or to previous prescriptions for the drug or its pharmaceutical equivalent that was issued more than one year after the date the patient last used or was administered the drug or its equivalent. Exemptions are provided for individuals in hospice and long-term care.
Current regulations promulgated by the New Jersey Department of Health limit the amount of opioids that can be prescribed to a patient for chronic pain at any one time to 30 days. Cancer patients and patients in palliative care are the exception. This bill would come closer to the new CDC guidelines which require prescribers to limit initial prescription for acute pain to less than seven days and a three day prescription as the best practice model for acute pain. Prescriptions for chronic pain, the risks of addiction and abuse should be assessed as well as the effectiveness of opioids in long-term use to alleviate chronic pain. The CDC guidelines also require that prescribers prescribe the lowest possible effective dosage and to use immediate release opioids as opposed to extended release formulations.
S-2035 cleared the full Senate 24-13 and now heads to the Assembly for further consideration