Bipartisan legislation to help address the prescription drug and opioid abuse epidemic plaguing New Jersey was advanced Thursday by an Assembly panel.
Part of an ongoing effort to create awareness, prevent abuse and promote recovery, the five measures collectively represent a comprehensive solution to a multi-faceted problem.
“This package includes evidence-based health care strategies aimed at both preventing addiction and targeting the myriad physical and emotional issues associated with recovery,” said Herb Conaway, M.D. (D-Burlington), chair of the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee. “The drug abuse destroying our communities is a public health crisis that we must use every resource at our disposal to eliminate.”
Substance abuse is a growing epidemic both nationally and in New Jersey. Drug overdose death rates in the United States have more than tripled since 1990, said Conaway.
Other Democratic sponsors of bills in the package, Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, Assemblyman Benjie E. Wimberly, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, Assemblyman Daniel Benson, Assemblyman Joe Lagana & Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, echoed Conaway’s call to end the devastating epidemic.
· A-622 (Moriarty/Diegnan/Wimberly/Vainieri Huttle/Gusciora/Sumter): Prohibits sale of dextromethorphan (DXM) to minors. Under the bill, any person who sells a product containing DXM as an active ingredient to someone under 18 years of age would be subject to a maximum civil penalty of $750. The provisions of the bill would not apply to a prescription medication dispensed by a pharmacist pursuant to a valid prescription.
The bill would also require the Department of Health to include a comprehensive list of products that contain DXM as an active ingredient on its website. “DXM abuse is becoming increasingly worrisome for law enforcement, parents and health care officials across the country,” said Moriarty (D-Gloucester/Camden). “It’s a scary thought, but adolescents are the primary abusers, mainly because it’s cheap and easy to obtain and many parents simply don’t know about its potential abuse. With a few simple steps like the ones outlined in this bill, we can combat the risk and ensure this medicine is used properly.”
“When used as directed, products that contain DXM are safe and effective, but when they are abused – which, unfortunately, has become a trend – they can cause a great deal of harm or even be fatal,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “This legislation is not only a major step toward preventing young people from purchasing dangerous over-the-counter drugs but also a declaration to them that these products can be just as hazardous as the alcohol and cigarettes they’re also barred from buying.”
“For many teens who don’t fully grasp the danger of these products, a devastating battle with addiction can begin with a seemingly routine trip to the drugstore for cheap bottle of cough syrup,” said Wimberly (Bergen/Passaic). “Requiring consumers to present proof of age before making a purchase can be a simple deterrent that saves lives.”
“Young people often don’t understand the imminent threat that the recreational misuse of DXM-containing medications presents, and their parents often don’t even realize that ‘robotripping’ is a trend,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “While there’s no practical way to eliminate minors’ access to DXM entirely, this legislation will limit that access and hopefully prevent young people from harming themselves and other people.”
“The abuse of this ingredient is frightening for many reasons, especially because the drug is so easy to obtain and many teenagers abusing it simply don’t understand the risk,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “We make it difficult for adolescents to obtain other potentially harmful drugs, and this should be no different.”
“This bill, fundamentally, is about safeguarding the wellness of young New Jersey residents and thereby safeguarding the future of this state,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). “We know DXM abuse is a devastating trend among New Jersey’s youth, and it is imperative that we take action.”
DXM is an active ingredient found in many cough suppressants and cold medicines in the form of over-the-counter cough syrup and cough and cold tablets or gel caps. Brand names include Vicks 44, Robitussin Maximum Strength and St. Joseph Cough Suppressant.
· A-709 (Benson/Sumter/Lagana): Requires pharmacies and prescribers to inform patients about how to ensure proper disposal of unused prescription drugs by supplying 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.
“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.”
“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-3723 (Conaway/Mukherji/Sumter): Requires any drug treatment program operating within a state correctional facility or county jail to offer medication-assisted treatment of substance abuse disorders in order to qualify for licensing as a residential drug treatment program and be eligible to receive the benefits thereof.
The bill also would permit participants in special probation drug court to take advantage of medication-assisted treatment and clarify that the use of medication-assisted treatment would not constitute a program violation.
“Medication-assisted treatment is an evidence-based practice widely recognized by public health and addiction professionals as one of the best options in helping manage opioid addiction,” said Conaway. “This legislation is about making sure that effective rehabilitation methods are available to men and women suffering from addiction.”
“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). “Medication-assisted treatment can advance the dual mission of promoting recovery and preventing recidivism.”
“This bill represents a much-needed shift in our approach to treatment,” said Sumter. “Whenever an individual makes the decision to seek the help they need, we ought to ensure that all the appropriate resources are available.”
· A-3955 (Conaway) – Requires the development and maintenance of a database to advise the public about open bed availability in residential substance use disorder treatment facilities. Under the bill, the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Service would establish and oversee a public database that would track the number of open beds available for treatment in each substance use disorder facility that receives state or county funding.
The database, to be displayed on the Department of Human Services website and upon request via the addictions telephone hotline and 2-1-1, would include, by county: the address and telephone number of the facility, a description of the services the facility provides, the licensed bed capacity of the facility and the number of open beds available for treatment.
“The fact that individuals who want treatment must repeatedly call multiple treatment centers to find out if beds are available – oftentimes to be rejected over and over again at a time when they are highly vulnerable – is a significant failing in our health care system,” said Conaway. “Having a one-stop resource that makes clear exactly where to find immediate openings can be the difference between someone turning his or her life around and that person giving up out of sheer hopelessness.”
· ACR-212 (Conaway): Establishes Joint Legislative Task Force on Addiction Prevention and Treatment. The six-member entity would be tasked with studying and making recommendations related to matters like care issues, improving communication between treatment centers and those in a position to assist addicted persons, increasing the number of treatment centers in New Jersey and identifying other ways to improve the provision of addiction prevention and treatment services.
The five measures were released by the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee