Assembly OKs Bills to Deter Substance Abuse, Prevent Addiction & Promote Recovery

Four bills aimed at decreasing the rate of drug abuse and preventing addiction in communities across New Jersey received approval from the Assembly on Thursday.

Part of an ongoing effort to create awareness, prevent abuse and promote recovery, sponsors of the bills noted that the four measures collectively represent the state’s effort to produce a comprehensive solution to a multi-faceted problem.

The bills:

· A-709 (Daniel Benson/Shavonda Sumter/Joseph Lagana) would require pharmacies and prescribers to supply patients with a Division of Consumer Affairs notice publicizing available drug take-back programs and giving suggestions for the safe disposal of drugs with each controlled dangerous substance dispensed. The bill passed unanimously and now awaits further Senate consideration.
The sponsors highlighted the bill’s focus on creating awareness, which they believe is a fundamental part of preventing fatal interactions with prescription medication.
“With its emphasis on educating the public, this measure is critical in our effort to prevent overdoses and save lives,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “This bill will help prevent drugs from getting into the wrong hands and, hopefully, eliminate the scourge that is prescription drug abuse in New Jersey.”
“The more people understand the dangers of prescription drugs, the more attentive they will be about how they dispose of them,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This legislation acknowledges the fact that stopping prescription drug abuse has to be a community effort.”
“Prescription drug abuse kills more people each day than heroin and cocaine overdoses combined in America,” said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Unfortunately, addiction to these drugs can have its origin not on the street corner, but in the medicine cabinet. By giving clear directions on how to properly dispose of these drugs, we can help stop problems before they begin.”

· A-3720 (Herb Conaway Jr./Pamela Lampitt/Nancy Pinkin/Benson/Sumter) would grant immunity to emergency responders and other critical frontline professionals who administer overdose antidotes. The bill passed unanimously and now goes to the governor.
“When seconds count, a well-meaning individual should not have to think twice about helping someone in need due to a fear that it ultimately may result in being held culpable for wrongdoing,” said Conaway (D-Burlington). “This legislation is about making sure that more men and women who are willing and able to assist someone during an emergency can do so without hesitation.”
Specifically, the measure would extend the immunity provisions of the Overdose Prevention Act to certain professionals and professional entities that administer or dispense opioid antidotes, including sterile syringe access program employees, law enforcement officials, emergency medical technicians and other paid or volunteer emergency responders, safeguarding them from liability if they in good faith administer an antidote like naloxone, known also by its brand name Narcan, in the event of an emergency. Such antidotes counteract the depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system opioids cause and can prevent death during an overdose.
“Authorizing more of our residents to provide medical assistance free of fear that legal repercussions will follow will go a long way toward saving lives,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “This legislation reflects our state’s collective commitment to helping those who struggle with substance abuse get back on the right path.”
Enacted in May 2013, the Overdose Prevention Act provides health care practitioners who prescribe or dispense naloxone or other opioid antidotes with immunity from civil and criminal liability and professional discipline. The law is a defense for certain individuals who administer an antidote in order to save the life of someone they believe in good faith is experiencing an opioid overdose.
The new legislation would authorize health care practitioners, such as physicians, physician assistants, advanced practice nurses, pharmacists and certain other practitioners – pursuant to a standing order – to provide opioid antidotes to professionals they deem capable of administering or dispensing the antidote or to professional entities whose employees they deem capable. Any parties authorized to dispense opioid antidotes would also be required provide patients with overdose prevention information.
“Naxolone is inexpensive and easy to administer, and already, it has played a critical role in saving lives in New Jersey,” said Pinkin (D-Middlesex). “This bill will ensure that individuals who are in a position to do the right thing can follow their instincts without of fear of liability.”
“As we work urgently to strengthen overdose prevention, having medication ready to reverse overdoses when they do occur is both pragmatic and necessary during this crisis,” said Benson. “By removing liability, this legislation will simply expand the life-saving efforts of our initial legislation.”
“No one who is capable of saving another person’s life should have to worry about the repercussions of trying to help,” said Sumter. “It’s only right that we move forward with this legislation.”

· A-3722 (Valerie Vainieri Huttle/Sumter/Raj Mukherji/Gabriela Mosquera/Reed Gusciora) is designed to address prison-based mental health and substance abuse treatment programs. It now goes to the governor’s desk.
The bill, which passed unanimously, would require the commissioners of Human Services and Corrections to formulate a plan to provide adequate and appropriate mental health and substance use disorder services to inmates in all state-owned, operated or contracted correctional facilities. All services would be provided by licensed parties.
“Too often, individuals with an illness – whether it’s a mental disorder or an addiction or both – go to prison and have no access to the treatment they need,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “This bill recognizes that treatment is a key part of successful reintegration.”
“Treatment offers the best chance for an inmate to break the cycle of incarceration,” said Sumter. “More often than not, substance abuse or mental health issues land an individual in prison. These are health issues that cannot be ignored, and they can’t cure themselves. If we can ensure more people get treatment and avoid incarceration, we can address a lot of the challenges that plague our society as a whole.”
“Part of the objective of every correctional facility should be to provide inmates with the tools they need to ensure that they never return,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “Mental health and substance use disorder services can advance the dual mission of promoting recovery and preventing recidivism.”
“It’s time for us to start seeing substance abuse as the public health issue that it is,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “If there’s any single place where there is a clear unfulfilled need for mental health and substance abuse services, it’s in our prisons.”
“We would never tell people who are sick simply to disappear for a few months or years and expect them to come back better, but that’s often what happens to incarcerated men and women,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “This legislation fundamentally is about making sure that people who are suffering can get on the road to wellness.”

The plan shall include, but need not be limited to, the following:
· Procedures for identifying those in need of mental health and substance use disorder services;
· Procedures for providing a mental health and substance use disorder evaluation to determine whether a person needs such services;
· Procedures for mental health or substance use disorder treatment to a person in need;
· Enumeration of the types of mental health and substance use disorder treatment that a person may receive, such as individual or group counseling, treatment with prescription drugs and increased monitoring as needed to prevent harm to self or others, which may include confinement in a secure hospital setting;
· Procedures for the provision of medication-assisted treatment in substance use disorder treatment programs, as appropriate and available;
· Procedures for terminating treatment when it is no longer needed;
· Identifying community mental health and substance use disorder treatment providers and services to assist in a person’s community reintegration upon discharge from a state-owned, operated or contracted correctional facility;
· Procedures for ensuring cooperation between the Department of Corrections and the Department of Human Services at all personnel levels and at every stage of identification, evaluation, treatment and termination of treatment so that adequate and appropriate mental health and substance use disorder services are provided;
· Procedures for maintaining the confidentiality of mental health and substance use disorder treatment records; and
· Procedures for biennial review and revision of the plan.
Under the bill, the Department of Human Services may also develop a plan to provide mental health and substance use disorder services to inmates in county-operated correctional facilities, in consultation with the county-designated individual or entity charged with planning treatment services for county inmates.

· A-3716 (Vainieri Huttle/Sumter/Mukherji/Mosquera/Gusciora) would create a consumer report card on addiction treatment providers. The bill was approved unanimously in the Assembly, giving it final legislative approval. The measure now heads to the governor’s desk.
“Selecting the most appropriate treatment provider is often a difficult and overwhelming experience, compounded by the stress of the situation,” said Vainieri Huttle. “We need to help empower consumers to make the choice that’s best for them or their loved one and that power comes from the knowledge of knowing how successful each treatment provider is.”
The bill would require the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) in the Department of Human Services to annually prepare a Substance Use Treatment Provider Performance Report. The division would also be required to post a copy of the report on its website and make hard copies of the report available to the public, upon request.
“At the moment, objective performance information about substance abuse providers in the state is not otherwise available to consumers who are seeking substance abuse treatment services,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This will eliminate the difficulty that individuals and their family members face when trying to select the most appropriate treatment provider.”
Although DMHAS currently collects and compiles the information required under this bill, and makes the performance information available on a statewide and provider-specific basis to providers in New Jersey, it does not make the provider-specific performance reports available to members of the public.
“If this information is already being collected, then by all means it should be provided to consumers to help them navigate a difficult decision-making process,” said Mukherji. “This bill will ensure that consumers of substance use treatment services have access to a vital tool to help them select the most appropriate treatment provider.”
“Those with addictions are essentially placing their life in the hands of these treatment providers,” said Mosquera. “Both they and their families deserve the peace of mind that comes from knowing they’re in the hands of a reputable provider who’s well-equipped to help them tackle these challenges.”
“For those serious about kicking addiction, choosing a place they can trust and feel most comfortable in is not an easy task,” said Gusciora. “This report will help them make better, more informed decisions.”
The bill requires the report to:

· Compare the overall performance of each substance use treatment provider with the statewide average performance of all providers, based on nationally recognized outcome measures (NOMS) for each level of care. NOMS attempt to capture meaningful, real life outcomes for people who are striving to attain and sustain recovery and participate fully in their communities in the wake of receiving treatment for an active addiction to drugs or alcohol.
· NOMS prescribed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which provide information regarding a client’s status at admission and discharge in six critical domains of living, such as: alcohol use at admission compared to discharge; other drug use at admission compared to discharge; employment status (both full-time and part-time) at admission compared to discharge; enrollment in school or a job training program at admission compared to discharge; arrest status in the 30-day period preceding admission compared to the 30-day period following discharge; and homelessness at admission compared to discharge; and
· Any other information the Assistant Commissioner deems appropriate.