Standing side-by-side with members of his cabinet, from health to labor to law enforcement, Gov. Murphy announced his administration’s effort in the battle against the opioid abuse epidemic specifically, but against substance abuse disorder, more generally. The strategy begins with getting all hands on deck, he said, because progress has been slow.
“Last year saw a 15 percent increase over 2017 in deaths. 2017 itself saw a 24 percent increase over 2016, and we should take very little solace just because the percentage went down. Each and everyone of those are God’s children, and they’re gone forever.”
Even as the level of opioid prescriptions continues to go down – 39 percent according to Murphy – the explosion of fentanyl use among those with substance abuse disorder has made the challenge even more difficult. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, and the governor says that journey has begun.
“First of all, we are removing Medicaid — something called Medicaid prior authorization requirements. Enough of you know what that means because you’re applauding. For those of you watching at home who may not know what that means, it’s essentially a key insurance barrier that has been gummed up inside of our Medicaid reality, so we’re removing that for Medicaid, specifically for medication-assisted treatment,” Murphy said.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) means the use of approved medications, traditional therapy and counseling. Murphy’s plan now adds medical marijuana in conjunction with the MAT regimen.
Other efforts include making Narcan more widely available, allowing MAT in prisons, making clean syringes more available and expanding educational, employment and support programs for expectant mothers. But law enforcement also has played a critical role, according to Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
“We put a trafficker behind bars after we caught him with more than 30 pounds — 30 pounds of fentanyl that had been shipped from China to Camden. Enough fentanyl for 5 million lethal doses. Enough to kill more than half the population of New Jersey and enough to kill the entire population of Camden 60 times over,” said Grewal.
It’s that kind of uphill struggle. Demand keeping pace with supply, and while stopping some of that supply helps, stemming the demand is where the victory will ultimately come. And, as the governor attempted to illustrate today, it will take a village: an entire state government and a medical community to play their roles.