State legislators on Monday met to talk about the opioid issue plaguing the state of New Jersey. The state lost over 800 lives to the battle with prescription painkillers and heroin last year. Many tough questions were brought to the table but no solid solutions were decided. The Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Services Committee discussed a task force report on heroin and opiates, released last month by the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, and heard testimony from the council’s acting executive director, Celina Gray.
The committee members expressed their frustration with the state's growing opiate epidemic. Many of the questions directed at Gray were in reference to Governor Chris Christie's administration and whether they are following the task force recommendations for where the finances need to be spent to help fight the issue. Questions were also raised as to the efficiency of the current recovery and prevention programs in both suburban and urban areas of NJ.
Gray who started the meeting off expressing the report's recommendations for tighter prescribing laws, more recovery programs and updated drug-awareness curriculum, had few answers for the tough questions brought upon by the committee.
“This is a law enforcement problem, but it’s a public health crisis,” committee chair Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Woodbridge, said. “I’m a little more interested in what is evidence-based prevention and treatment programs. I’m really past all the balloons, the confetti and the puppies and the donkey show, the ‘Just Say No.’ It doesn’t work.”
The senators stated obvious concern for the extreme lack of affordable, effective and timely treatment. “It’s a stark reality that if you commit a crime you can get care,” Vitale said, referring to the state’s drug court program. “We are so woefully underfunded when it comes to providing inpatient and outpatient services.”
The committee brought attention to tightening access to prescription painkillers by limiting the amount a doctor can prescribe at a time. Doing so may have a negative effect on those patients who are in need of these medications to function or because of an injury. Making it mandatory for doctors to use the states Drug Monitoring program can have positive effects by being able to keep track of prescriptions and patients who are trying to abuse medications and doctors who are over-prescribing at rapid rates.
Some senators criticized the council's prevention and awareness programs and the inefficiency of them. Much of the money intended for drug prevention and awareness never made it to the programs at all. Trickling into funding for community fairs, petting zoos, and local entities that in some cases did not provide any supporting documentation.
The meeting brought many good questions to the table but no concrete solutions were given. It will however put pressure on the Christie Administration to come up with alternative programs and a tighter structure on the funds that are to be used for drug abuse and prevention. Change is needed in NJ, and it's good to see that the State is working on the problems. Hopefully with the right education, prevention, awareness, and support the State's opiate problem can be reduced.