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Assembly Panel Advances Conaway & Vainieri Huttle Measures to Help Tackle Opioid Crisis in New Jersey

One Measure Will Create Bipartisan Joint Legislative Taskforce to Map Out a Blueprint for Treating & Decreasing Addiction

An Assembly panel on Monday approved two legislative measures sponsored by Assembly Democrats Herb Conaway, Jr., M.D. and Valerie Vainieri Huttle designed to aid the comprehensive effort underway to tackle the opioid crisis in New Jersey.

One measure (ACR-225) would create a Joint Legislative Task Force on Addiction Prevention and Treatment and the other measure (ACR-223) urges the federal government to ease restrictions that currently prevent Medicaid from covering certain inpatient and outpatient treatment and rehabilitation programs.

The sponsors noted that the State Commission of Investigation recently reported that New Jersey is in the midst of a prescription pill and heroin abuse epidemic, noting that there has been a sharp increase reported in the number of admissions to substance abuse treatment centers and in the number of deaths attributable to drug abuse and addiction, with particularly large increases associated with opioids, including prescription pain medications and heroin.

“In order to address New Jersey’s addiction issues in a meaningful way that will have a substantive impact, we need to examine both the systems supporting the treatment of substance abuse and misuse and also the obstacles to the efficient and effective treatment of those mental health conditions,” said Conaway (D-Burlington). “My hope is that this taskforce will lay out a blueprint for the appropriate actions to promote enhanced prevention and treatment services for those suffering from addiction.”

“Substance abuse and addiction have a far reaching impact on society as lives are lost, opportunities are squandered, potential goes unrealized, and families are torn apart,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “It has also placed a strain on law enforcement and threatened a public health crisis due to the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C among intravenous drug users. We need this taskforce here and now to examine this issue broadly and create a working plan for us to improve lives and stem addiction rates.”

Specifically, the first measure (ACR-225) would create a six-member, bipartisan Joint Legislative Task Force on Addiction Prevention and Treatment, consisting of three members of the Senate and three members of the Assembly, appointed respectively by the Senate President and the Assembly Speaker.

The task force would be required to convene within 60 days of the effective date of this resolution, and shall meet thereafter at the call of its co-chairs, in order to study and make recommendations concerning issues related to addiction prevention and treatment in New Jersey, including:
– assessing continuum of care issues, including issues related to reintegrating patients into society and assisting patients to find and maintain post-treatment employment, and ensuring patients receive adequate and effective support services throughout the treatment and post-treatment process;
– establishing a network to improve communication between inpatient substance abuse treatment centers throughout the state and those agencies, social workers, health care professionals, and other entities that may be in a position to assist addicted persons with accessing available and appropriate treatment resources;
– identifying ways to facilitate the expansion of existing substance abuse treatment centers and the construction of new substance abuse treatment centers, including identifying means of ensuring that adequate professionals, support staff, and funding are available to meet the demand for addiction prevention and treatment services in this State; and
– identifying means of improving access to, and the provision of, addiction prevention and treatment services in the state.

The taskforce is also required to issue a report on its findings and proposals for legislative action no later than 180 days after the resolution’s enactment.

The second measure (ACR-223), sponsored by Conaway, respectfully requests that the President and Congress amend the provisions in the Medicaid program which prohibit federal reimbursement for certain in-patient and out-patient rehabilitation and treatment programs for individuals who are afflicted with substance use disorder.

Since the inception of the Medicaid program in 1965, prohibitions have existed on the federal funding of services which are provided in an Institution for Mental Diseases (IMD), referred to as the IMD exclusion. As substance use disorder is classified as a mental disease, certain programs that provide in-patient and out-patient rehabilitation and treatment services for individuals who are afflicted with substance use disorder are not eligible for federal Medicaid reimbursement.

“This antiquated exclusion has led to decreased access to these programs and is contributing to the substance use disorder epidemic that is gripping the nation and our state,” added Conaway. “The federal government could easily take certain actions to mitigate these problems by modifying several Medicaid provisions.”

Conaway noted that these potential actions could include repealing the IMD exclusion, excluding substance use disorder from the definition of mental disease for the purposes of determining if a treatment facility is an IMD, and increasing the bed limit of the IMDs.

Both measures were approved by the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee chaired by Conaway.