Legislation Would Require NJ Doctors to Discuss Opiate Addiction

NJ Spotlight News | March 12, 2015 | Health Care, Politics
Pending legislation would require doctors to discuss opiate addiction and offer alternatives before painkillers.

By Brenda Flanagan

“I was a heroin user. And I started off taking pills,” said Sharon Daniels.

Daniels says she kicked the habit but notes a steady stream of people come to Trenton’s Hanover Street looking to buy drugs.

“For five Percocets, real Percocets, it might cost you $50. If you use pills, there’s good chance you’re gonna be on your way to heroin. Shooting or snorting. The street value of heroin is much cheaper than buying pills,” she said.

In its gritty series about heroin addiction in Paterson, The Record interviews addict Mike Ward, who also started with pills. On Godwin Avenue, he can score three hits for just $11.

“I really want to let these kids know, this is what’s gonna happen. I want the parents to see it. I just relapsed three weeks ago. I had nine months clean but the drugs kept calling me the whole time,” he said.

We asked people struggling with addiction would it help if doctors fully explained exactly how powerfully addictive these opiate painkillers are before they give patients a prescription?

“That would help a lot. It’d help people make their own decision,” Daniels said.

“If you get 30 Percocets or you get 30 opiates, by the time you do it and you’re addicted to it, you don’t know what the effect is gonna be,” said John Thomas. “It’s too late.”

But a new PublicMind poll unveiled by Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey shows two-thirds of New Jerseyans believe it would make a difference — and an overwhelming 91 percent support pending legislation that would require New Jersey doctors to discuss opiate addiction and offer alternatives.

“There needs to be a change in the mindset,” said Dr. Shuvendu Sen.

Sen says doctors can steer patients to other meds, acupuncture, yoga, music. He says government can provide guidelines.

“We got to focus on those things. There’s no point in giving a medication where it takes off your pain, but it takes off your life,” he said.

But not every doctor is on board.

“The Medical Society opposes generally physician mandates that require certain notices or burdens…that affect time with their patients and their discretion for treating patients,” said Mishael Azam from The Medical Society of New Jersey.

“A bill such as this educates the doctors as much as it does the consumer,” said Thomas Allen, Jr., CEO and President of Summit Behavioral Health.

Former addicts who started using pills for pain management say they should have been warned about the symptoms of withdrawal.

“Trying to come off and they’re getting flu-like symptoms, they’re getting the shakes, nausea, realizing that they can’t come off the medication,” said Allen.

“I’m not blaming physicians for the opiate crisis, but these discussions should take place. They do take place in some physician’s offices already, but it’s not universal,” said Sen. Joseph Vitale.

Critics call the bill government over-reach, but it’s already passed the Senate, and supporters feel cautiously optimistic it’ll pass in the Assembly, too.