The State Senate today approved six bills aimed at fighting the heroin and prescription drug epidemic that is affecting New Jersey, an epidemic that has grown so large that it has overtaken car accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in the state.
“New Jersey is home of some of the most pure and least expensive heroin in the country and when ingested it can have catastrophic effects on the user, causing extreme addiction or even death,” said Senator Joseph F. Vitale, D-Middlesex, Chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and architect of much of the bill package. “Many users across the state first become addicted to prescription medication and then move to the cheaper, stronger and more deadly option of heroin. The State Legislature has taken on the task of reversing this epidemic through prevention options that educate our residents of the dangers of both prescription drug and heroin abuse and through effective treatment options that assist users in recovering from their addictions. This marks a major milestone in changing the drug culture in the state.”
Four of the bills the Senate took up, focused on recovery efforts of those with a heroin or opiate addiction.
§ S-2377, sponsored by Senators Peter J. Barnes III and Vitale would direct certain colleges and universities in the state to establish special housing for students who are in recovery. The Senate approved the legislation 37-0.
“Maintaining sobriety during college can be extremely difficult for those young people recovering from substance abuse problems,” said Senator Barnes, D-Middlesex “We have colleges and institutions, such as Rutgers University in New Brunswick, which are leading the way in helping their students overcome these problems with programs such as recovery housing. Taking these working models and extending them to colleges throughout the state will benefit students across New Jersey by providing a clean and sober living environment.”
§ An amendment to the Overdose and Prevention Act, S-2378, was approved by the Senate with a vote of 34-0. The legislation, sponsored by Senators Vitale and Robert Singer, would provide immunity to law enforcement professionals for delivery of an overdose antidote and would require all syringe access programs to carry and dispense the antidote to needle exchange participants.
“It’s clear that we need to work to address opioid abuse and addiction from multiple fronts,” said Senator Singer, R-Monmouth, Ocean. “This initiative will help to address key components by increasing access to lifesaving treatment and by allowing for more coordinated and comprehensive mental health and behavioral health care.”
§ A bill sponsored by Senators Vitale and Dawn Addiego, would help those looking for the right treatment options for their own recovery to make an informed decision. The bill, S-2373, would require the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services to annually prepare a Substance Use Treatment Provider Performance Report including the patients’ success of remaining abstinent from drugs and alcohol after completion of the program, employment figures, education and job training admissions and housing information. The bill was approved with a vote of 36-0.
“In battling the state’s growing heroin epidemic, we need to ensure that those seeking treatment have access to effective substance abuse providers,” said Senator Addiego, R-Burlington, Camden and Atlantic. “This legislation will help us to understand which treatment facilities work well, which need improvement, and will help more people to successfully overcome addiction.”
§ S-2380 would help bridge the gap between the Department of Corrections and the Department of Health to ensure that the state’s prison population is receiving the best addiction treatment for their needs. The bill was approved with a vote of 37-0.
“Over the past few years we have had great success in increasing access to drug court for incarcerated individuals, rerouting people from costly prison stays and into treatment programs that can really change their lives,” said Senator Raymond Lesniak, D-Union. “By continuing to assist this population in getting the treatment they need, we can continue to reduce recidivism rates, reduce the prison population and help people become productive members of society.”
The remaining bills focus on the prevention and education of opiate and heroin abuse, working to stop heroin and opiate addictions before they begin.
§ S-2366, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Vitale, would require health care practitioners to discuss with the patient or their parents the risks of developing a dependence of the prescribed drug. The bill was approved by the Senate with a vote of 36-1.
“Too often heroin addictions begin with prescription pills, which are easily accessible through a doctor or pharmacy or in the medicine cabinet at home,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen. “Hopefully we can increase patient awareness of addictive and dangerous nature of these drugs, by ensuring that doctors and medical professionals are clear with the patients or their parents regarding these prescriptions’ habit-forming qualities. Armed with this information, patients may choose to take the pills cautiously, but also to dispose of leftover pills appropriately.”
§ The final bill considered today, S-2367, sponsored by Senators Richard J. Codey and Diane Allen, would require the state Board of Education to review curriculum on substance abuse to make sure that our students are receiving effective prevention education. The bill was approved by the Senate with a vote of 36-0.
“Schools across the state are responsible for teaching our children about drugs, their negative effects and how to avoid them,” said Senator Codey, D-Essex and Morris. “We must review what our schools are teaching our kids about substance abuse, and ensure that they are doing it in a way that is not only evidence-based but can be most impactful.”
“Educating students about the dangers of substance abuse is an important piece of a comprehensive effort to address addiction and reclaim lives,” said Senator Allen, R-Burlington. “As a part of that effort we need to make sure the curriculum used in schools is based on the latest and best research and practices available.”
“We have taken a real holistic view of how to deal with the state’s heroin problem. The typical war-on-drugs approach that locks up and punishes people with behavioral and mental health problems is not an effective strategy. But by improving access to prevention and treatment options, we can begin to stop this wave of opiate-related deaths we are seeing across the state,” said Senator Vitale.