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New Jersey Lawmakers Fighting The Opiate Epidemic

New Jersey is a state that has been hit extremely hard by the opiate epidemic, especially in the Jersey Shore area. State lawmakers have released a package of almost two dozen bills in an effort to fight the growing opiate epidemic that has caused major destruction all over the state. NJ has many weaknesses in it's substance abuse and treatment system and the 21 bills which were constructed over the past year and a half aim to strengthen those issues in the system. "The current system is completely failing our children," said Patty DiRenzo, a Camden County woman whose son, Salvatore Marchese, died of a heroin overdose in 2010.

Legislators held up the package of bills as an evidence-based approach to an epidemic that claimed more than 550 lives in New Jersey last year. A fifth of those overdose deaths came from Ocean County. There were 112 opioid-related deaths in Ocean County and 61 in Monmouth last year, authorities have said.

One of the programs mentioned in a bill was the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. Currently the system requires pharmacies to update the database only once a month. One of the changes that legislature proposed was to make it mandatory for the pharmacies to update it a minimum of once per week in order to make it easier for authorities to follow trends of doctor shopping. Doctor shopping is where addicts or dealers visit multiple doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions for narcotic painkillers in the same month. Many do this to either feed their addiction or to sell on the black market for profit.

One bill would increase the state's "embarrassing" Medicaid reimbursement rate, seen as a disincentive for health care organizations to operate in New Jersey, said state Sen. Joseph F. Vitale, D-Middlesex, chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. Another bill would require the state Division of Medical Assistance and Health Services to annually compare and rank substance abuse providers.

The Overdose Protection Act, which allows law enforcement to carry the opiate antidote Naloxone, would be expanded to include substance abuse workers and volunteers.  It would require those who administered the antidote to provide the patient with overdose prevention information to help cut down on future overdoses.

Education was a topic brought up in a bill that will update how abuse and addiction are taught in schools, by requiring the Department of Education to review its curriculum to include “the most recent evidence-based standards and practices". Another bill will allow the court systems to provide medication-based therapies. This will allow the drug court system the opportunity to give the people who qualify for drug court the chance to use Suboxone and Methadone for therapy rather than being put in jail.

Another bill will push for more Project Medicine Drop locations around the state that have shown to take thousands of pounds of old and dangerous medications off of the street and disposing of it properly.

Legislators were ecstatic about the bills and look at it as a bipartisan effort with overwhelming support because "this issue has touched every inch of New Jersey," said Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini, R-Monmouth. "This is a health issue," Angelini said. "And what will it look like if we don't address it?"

Hopefully these new bills will help put a dent in the opiate epidemic New Jersey is facing. If anything, addressing these issues is a step in the right direction.

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