Governor Chris Christie deserves a special thank you from me. Due to his initiative, the New Jersey legislature has passed perhaps the most comprehensive opioid and heroin prevention legislation the United States has yet seen. Please note, the key word above is prevention. It is also important to note that this bill, and other varying forms of the bill, had been sitting in the legislature for months untouched.
Prevention is the one subject area of addiction that previously had remained rather untouched, and I’m not sure we can really place too much blame for that in any specific place. America’s opioid and heroin addiction crisis ballooned to unfathomable numbers following the aggressive marketing campaigns pharmaceutical companies launched in the 1990s and early 2000s, which contributed to excessive prescribing by doctors nationwide. Over the past five years, lawmakers have struggled to take care of the immediate concerns of thousands of people overdosing on opioids or heroin. New Jersey was one of a handful of states which allowed for the wide distribution and relaxed availability of Narcan, the opioid overdose antidote. All while Narcan began to be carried by law enforcement, heroin began to be laced with synthetic drugs and overdose deaths spiked. The focus had remained almost exclusively on how to react to the current issues of transporting overdosed people to the hospital, and reviving them.
Thankfully, we now have legislation in New Jersey that seeks to prevent the root cause of this epidemic, which largely began with opioid pain relievers for temporary pain relief. It is important to note that the bill is clear to focus on temporary pain treatment, and omits long term conditions such as cancer. This bill limits pain pill quantitates to five days for the average broken bone, thrown-out back, or dental procedure. Previously, patients were able to receive up to 30 days, which allowed for many opportunities for patients to experience withdrawal symptoms and confuse those symptoms with persisting pain, and eventually paved the way to fall in to a full addiction to pain relievers.
The bill goes further by cutting red tape for those who are ready to seek treatment for addiction. This is fantastic news for New Jersey, because historically, treatment beds were limited, or insurance policies did not cover for addiction treatment. Far too many times did families need to drain their 401K savings in order to send children or spouses to Florida for treatment.
Some believe that this bill is an extension of the war on drugs. I reject that comparison, because the opioid and heroin crisis only exists on the black market because of an addiction that began within the doctor’s office. The war on drugs actually consists mostly of locking people up for using drugs, whereas this bill seeks to prevent addiction AND help facilitate quicker access to treatment.
While many government agencies and researchers note that previous medical practice contributed to this societal problem, there are still certain medical societies who reject the very premise of this bill and claim that it infringes on doctor-patient relationships, or, that legislators have no business telling doctors what to do. Well, to those who believe this bill steps on doctors’ toes, I refer them to another group of doctors who have published peer-reviewed work in various medical journals which calls exactly for state-level legislation to prevent opioid addictions in the first place.
Governor Christie, thank you for getting this done. I am certain that over time, we will see a greatly decreased number of new addictions in New Jersey because of this bill. I’m not one who usually agrees with your policies, but for everyone, it is important to thank politicians for good work when it happens, no matter the previous actions taken.