Trenton – Senator Joe Vitale, Chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee and long-time champion of harm reduction policies, issued the following statement to coincide with Overdose Awareness Day:
“Overdose Awareness Day marks a solemn occasion for many New Jersey families, a day that brings back poignant memories of children, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters and friends who we once embraced, but were taken from our midst all too soon.
“This day also reminds us that the opioid crisis that has spread across our state in the past few decades, and that was exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, continues to haunt us, and continues to take a very human toll on those who struggle with substance use disorder, and on those who love and seek care for them.
“Overdose Awareness Day must be a further call to action, to remind us that we can and must do more to prevent these tragedies. For several years I have been a champion of harm reduction strategies shown to be effective in humanely fighting addiction and helping to prevent overdoses among those who struggle daily with substance use disorder.
“I am proud to have put forward legislation that established our first syringe exchange programs, and laws that greatly expanded access to opioid antidotes like Naloxone.
“Other practical measures we have pushed forward include requiring health insurance coverage for substance use disorder treatment, limiting initial prescriptions of opioids, requiring discussions between prescribers and patients on the risks associated with opioids, and decriminalizing the possession of hypodermic syringes and fentanyl test strips.
“All these are common-sense initiatives that are now beginning to be more fully embraced and in the long run can help in the fight to prevent opioid abuse and overdose events.
“In the end, we need to stand up and meet people where they are with resources to minimize and prevent harm, and rapid access to treatment for those ready to take that step. We need to start seeing the faces, and recognize the humanity of those in our midst who face substance use struggles.
“Finally, as we move forward in this campaign against an enemy who does not recognize geographic, economic or social status boundaries, let us do so with an open mind that lets us recognize and embrace new harm reduction programs that might save a life of a loved one, or the life of someone we never met. Again, we can and must do more.”
(ReachNJ — New Jersey’s addiction helpline – 1-844-732-2465 is available for those in immediate need of assistance).