Conaway, Benson & Mukherji Legislation to Advance Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention Clears Panel

Legislation Assemblymen Herb Conaway Jr., Daniel Benson and Raj Mukherji sponsored to prevent overdoses by employing a combination of community education and increased analysis of data on drug abuse in New Jersey was approved Thursday by an Assembly panel.

The bill (A-3715) would expand the duties of the state’s poison control and drug information program, directing it to establish a clearinghouse of drug overdose information, report on trends and provide education on the safe storage and disposal of prescription drugs.

“We cannot ignore the rapid increase in injuries and deaths related to the overuse and abuse of narcotic drugs like prescription opioids in New Jersey,” said Conaway (D-Burlington). “Along with recent legislative efforts to increase outpatient care and expand insurance coverage for those battling addiction, this bill addresses substance abuse by acknowledging that the state’s poison control and drug information program is an appropriate vehicle for gathering data about overdoses and decreasing their frequency in our state.”

In addition to its primary responsibility of responding to general requests for poison information, the measure would make the program responsible for fostering public awareness of drug overdose prevention methods, such as properly storing and disposing of medications, locking medicine cabinets and using prescription disposal drop boxes.

The bill also directs the poison control and drug information program to establish and maintain a clearinghouse for drug overdose information. Health care providers would be required to notify the program when they receive a report or analysis regarding a drug overdose or within 10 days of treating a patient for a drug overdose, whichever is earlier. They would also be required to supply the best available demographic information regarding an overdose, a description of the circumstances surrounding the overdose and an indication of the type of drug that caused the overdose. The program would use the database to track new trends and identify the presence of overly potent or adulterated batches of drugs or chemicals being abused.

“By educating the public and establishing a resource analyzing drug abuse in New Jersey, this bill is critical in our effort to prevent overdoses and save lives,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “The more we know about emerging trends, the better equipped we will be to prevent drugs from getting into the wrong hands, get help to those who need it and, hopefully, eliminate the scourge that is prescription drug abuse in New Jersey.”

The poison control and drug information program would be required to compile and deliver a report outlining patterns in drug abuse derived from the clearinghouse to the state police, municipalities and licensed health care providers in New Jersey at least once a year. The report would also be published on the program’s website. If the program’s analysis of drug overdose information suggests that an overly potent or adulterated batch of drugs or chemicals is being abused, the program immediately would be required to transmit to the aforementioned parties a drug toxicity warning notice, which would also be posted on its website.

“The clearinghouse this legislation establishes will help our state identify patterns and put a stop to life-threatening trends in their infancy,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “Having representatives from the law enforcement, local government and health care sectors work together on this issue, which the bill facilitates, will be key as our state combats the misuse of prescription drugs.”

In conjunction with the supplementary duties outlined in the bill, the poison control and drug information program would continue to execute its current functions, which include determining whether at home or emergency facility treatment is best in dealing with a poison case, recommending treatment measures to the appropriate personnel and providing follow-up education to prevent future incidents of poisoning.

The bill was approved by the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee, of which Conaway is chair and Benson is vice-chair.