By Briana Vannozzi
Less than an hour after the state Legislature gave its approval, Gov. Chris Christie signed into law what’s been one of his top priorities during his final year in office.
“By signing this bill we know New Jersey now leads the way across the entire country in first and foremost recognizing this is a disease,” Christie said.
Christie’s drug addiction reform bill builds on his effort to stem New Jersey’s opioid addiction crisis.
The new law limits initial opioid prescriptions to five days only, lowered from the 30-day standard; requires insurance companies provide health coverage for up to six months for medically ordered inpatient and outpatient substance abuse treatment; it eliminates prior approvals, pre-payment obligations and any waiting period for patients; and requires a doctor/patient conversation about opioid risks prior to prescribing.
“Now with this legislation, people seeking treatment cannot be denied access in their time of need,” Christie said.
Christie called the law the strongest in the nation, adding that heroin and opioid addiction took the lives of 1,600 New Jerseyans in 2015. That’s 22 percent higher than the year before.
“It’s good to continue the effort and the strategy. This certainly isn’t the end of the work we’re going to do but it’s a part of the puzzle,” said Sen. Joe Vitale.
Vitale led the legislative efforts. He says the law doesn’t impact cancer or hospice patients or those with chronic pain. Doctors can extend prescriptions on the fourth day if it’s deemed medically necessary. The prescription limit and required conversation have been a contentious point for some physician groups who want less government intervention.
“We’ve seen in the past what has happened. Too many pills being prescribed and patients are unaware of the consequences. So I hear time and again from parents, spouses and loved ones who have lost people to addiction because they just did not know the dangers,” Vitale said.
“Most people who have addiction also have an underlying mental illness. Not everyone, but about 60 percent of the people have a mental illness. So if you didn’t treat both disorders, you really could not help the person on the road to recovery,” said New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies President and CEO Debra Wentz.
Wentz adds this will bring parity in coverage.
“As of last week since we started our ad campaign, the calls to 1-844-REACH-NJ are up 50 percent. It’s not that people don’t need help, it’s that they don’t know where to go for help. And they’re kind of scared to ask for help,’” Christie said.
This, of course, all happened just a day after the governor’s much talked about luncheon with President Trump, saying he hopes to use this as a national model. The state now plans to spend upwards of $1 million on a public awareness campaign.