Legislators, Health Experts Dissect Policies to Fight Drug Overdoses

NJTV's second forum on New Jersey’s drug addiction crisis included a panel of legislators and health experts.

By Briana Vannozzi

Ask seven different people to name the best public policy in the prevention and fight against drug overdose in New Jersey, you’ll get seven different answers.

“The first thing that has to happen is the public to start demanding the kind of quality prevention and treatment that really is available,” said Thomas McLellan, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Treatment Research Institute.

That topic was tackled during NJTV’s second forum on New Jersey’s drug addiction crisis, moderated by Correspondent David Cruz. The panel of legislative and health experts were asked to dissect which policies are working and which ones are not.

“For every dollar you spend trying to incarcerate somebody versus every dollar you spend working towards a recovery is just a misuse of money. The money should be spent for the majority towards helping people get the help that they need so that they can get through their addiction and then become productive members of our society,” said Assemblyman Chris Brown.

In New Jersey — where the rate of heroin overdose is three times the national average — a number of legislative reforms have been put forward. Sen. Joe Vitale led the effort on a 21-bill package to reform substance abuse treatment. It’s mostly been met with support, except for one piece — a mandate requiring doctors have a conversation with patients about the dangers of prescription pain meds when narcotics are prescribed.

“Well I don’t think the government has a role in practicing medicine and look, when I look at any legislation, any problem that faces our society, I always go to first principles. And it really starts with, well it’s not constitutional,” said Assemblyman Herb Conaway.

Doctor and Assemblyman Conaway is blocking the bill from being posted. That led to a heated exchange.

“The medical community is not prescribing cautiously. Dr. Conaway is a member of a special interest group and he’s using that membership and that special interest group to put that group’s interests above public health and that is the wrong thing for an elected official to do. Your responsibility is public health, not a special interest group,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing.

“I haven’t run into anybody who is out there thinking, ‘My role today is to get up and harm as many patients as I can.’ That suggestion there I think is absolutely outrageous,” Conaway said.

“Physicians have been at the forefront of many of these discussions both because we’re looking to strike balance between the needs of patients with legitimate pain, but also being very keenly aware of the threat of diversion,” said Larry Downs, CEO of the Medical Society of New Jersey.

State Police Captain Juan Colon is the architect of New Jersey’s drug monitoring program. It allows agencies to share intelligence about the state’s drug environment.

“Right now we’re able to identify where the hot spots are, wherever there’s heroin or fentanyl that’s causing an increased number of overdoses and we’re able to provide the local municipality information about the specific heroin stamps that are being identified,” Colon said.

The next public forum tackling the crisis will be held in June.

For more stories that are part of the initiative Healthy NJ: New Jersey’s Drug Addiction Crisis, click here.

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