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New Jersey's Response to the Opioid Epidemic

Written by Adekunle O. Adejare PharmD'19
Published on November 28, 2017

To continue discussing the opioid epidemic, focusing in on a specific region can help one to better understand how the opioid epidemic has affected those close to home.  So, in order to better establish a working view of how the opioid epidemic has affected people, looking at a select few states can help better clarify what the epidemic has looked like.  Of all the states, New Jersey sits as a unique starting point to help model the future national plan of the opioid epidemic.

New Jersey (NJ) is distinctive among states in the opioid epidemic because of its governor Chris Christie.  Gov.  Christie has had a unique position in the opioid epidemic.  One reason stems from the fact that he has been directly affected by the opioid epidemic taking the life of one of his loved ones.  At the same time, he also chairs the Trump administration’s task force created to help determine the best methodology to deal with the epidemic.  Between his knowledge and power, Gov. Christie has opted to push all his efforts towards modeling NJ as the future of how the fight against the opioid epidemic will look.  In this pursuit, he has opted to allocate $200 million in state funds in the struggle against the opioid epidemic.

In the quest to invent the future regimen of opioid treatment in NJ, the office of Gov. Christie has begun pushing programs to help, in every facet possible, reduce the presence of opioids in New Jersey.   Gov. Christie’s approach to finding the long-term treatment techniques is summed up by a simple quote.  “You say your methods are great…Well, prove it.”  To that end he has opted to create a new system for monitoring the effectiveness of the drug treatment regimens that will be used.  The goal of the new monitoring system is to allow for better allocation of funds towards treatment programs that are most effective in keeping people from relapsing into drug abuse.  To deal with overdoses, the administration has changed the prescribing rules behind Narcan® (naloxone) by pushing every first-responder team to have the overdose revival drug to limit the number of deaths that occur.

For prevention, New Jersey has made unique policies that together have high potential for reducing the expansion of the opioid epidemic.  With $1.8 million, Gov. Christie hopes to further strengthen the current Prescription Monitoring Program’s (PMP) system.  With the investment, Gov. Christie wants to be able to determine where problematic prescribing practices occur.  In these areas the gravity of addiction that comes with prescribing opiates has not weighed heavily enough on prescribers, leading to a disproportionate number of deaths occurring.   In addition, NJ has already made strides towards reducing the number of individuals battling addiction by creating a new limit on the amount of drug that can be prescribed at one time.  The purpose of the law has been to narrow the chances of opioid abuse as much as possible by reducing the potential for people to start them.  The biggest concern with the new law has been that it could seriously and unnecessarily impede the ability of prescribers to give patients medications they need.  This becomes even more understandable when one acknowledges NJ’s particularly impressive prescribing record as utilizing fewer opiates than most states.  At the same time, the counter argument is simple.  NJ currently has one of the highest rates of heroin overdose amongst all states.  This suggests that something is intrinsically wrong with the prescribing practices.  The conclusion that Gov. Christie’s decision is based on might be that while New Jersey is not getting more people addicted, those getting addicted may be getting significantly higher doses than necessary.  If such is the case, then while the chances of starting on an addictive path might be lower than normal, the inevitability of one becoming addicted in New Jersey might be higher than normal.

The current opioid epidemic has been difficult on many families.  Gov. Christie, with his history of personally witnessing people afflicted with addiction destroy their lives, has chosen to deal with addiction through medical care over the use of the justice system.  With the driving motivation of compassion, Gov. Christie has laid the groundwork for dealing with addiction by adopting policies common in other areas of the nation.  The current policies that are being enacted will help opioid addicted individuals get the treatment they so desperately need.  The only question left is to determine to what extent this plan will help.  For that, only time will tell.

Categories:  Substance Use Disorders InstituteOpioidsMayes College of Healthcare Business and PolicyPublic HealthHealth PolicyDepartment of Health Policy and Public HealthDepartment of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare BusinessPharmaceutical and Healthcare Business