The use of opiates has crossed all demographics and caused damage to families and communities regardless of age or socio-economic status. Opiate-based painkillers and their illegal cousin, heroin, have been hitting the nation hard, but teens are particularly at risk. Studies by the University of Michigan have found that high school students who used prescription drugs such as Vicodin and OxyContin are far more likely to abuse opiate painkillers by the time they are twenty-three. In addition, New Jersey now ranks sixth for their youth overdose rates within the United States.
While everyone is vulnerable currently, the teenage years are a time of increased likelihood of becoming addicted to opiates. The National Institute of Drug Abuse states that the brain is still developing during this period of their lives and is incredibly malleable and open to influence. The areas of the brain that are attracted to drug use and abuse will mature far sooner before the parts of the brain that create non-impulsive and responsible decisions.
Because of this, it is important that we arm parents with the information and tools that they need to fight back against the opiate epidemic. This means offering them up-to-date information regarding prescription painkillers. A report that was released by the John Hopkins University School of Public Health has strongly recommended that the FDA tighten up the prescribing of opiates to the public. It shows data that claims that eighty-five percent of physicians believe that opiates are over-prescribed to patients. The director of the CDC, Tom Frieden, states that they are not seeing a consistent and effective prescribing of painkillers across the US and that the direct results of this are the increase in overdose deaths.
Due to the growing opiate crisis, the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey has suggested that New Jersey adopts the bill introduced by Assemblyman Joseph A. Lagana, D-Bergen-Passaic, called the Parent Notification Bill. This bill will offer parents information that will help them make an informed decision about the prescription of opiates to their children. It will require that all prescribers discuss the risks of dependency before they write a prescription and offer alternative treatments if there are any. If the guardian decides to move forward with an opiate prescription, this piece of legislation would offer parents information about the signs of opiate dependency and addiction.
The logic behind this bill is that if parents must offer a signed permission form for their child to attend school field trips, then a parent should be asked and informed before their child is offered a life-altering legal drug.
There has been a more expansive bill that was entered by Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, and Sen. Joe Vitale, D-Middlesex called the patient notification bill. This would require conversations such as the one above to occur with adult patients as well. This was passed in 2014, but it has not yet received a committee hearing. Many in New Jersey are calling for the swift passage and implementation of both bills as the cost of the opiate epidemic continues to rise.