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Lagana Introduces Comprehensive Legislative Package to Help Battle Opioid & Heroin Crisis in NJ

Drug overdose deaths now surpass the number of deaths resulting from motor vehicle accidents

(TRENTON) – Assemblyman Joe Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic) has introduced a six-bill legislative package to help combat the ongoing opioid and heroin epidemic in New Jersey.

Heroin and opioid addiction has been a growing problem in New Jersey. Heroin and opioid admissions accounted for 49 percent of all substance abuse admissions in New Jersey in 2014, the highest in at least a decade, according to data from the state Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services. There were 781 heroin-related overdose deaths in New Jersey in 2014, according to data by the state Department of Criminal Justice. That is more than twice as many as in 2010.

The legislative package is an extension of Lagana’s efforts in the fight against the opioid and heroin crisis in the state, which includes the PMP bill signed last session, which revised the New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program to curb prescription drug and heroin abuse, and the bill (A-3424), which was introduced back in March and would require prescribers to discuss addiction risks associated with certain drugs before issuing a prescription to patients who are minors.

“The steady rise of opioid and heroin use and addiction in our state is alarming. Data shows that nearly half of heroin users start by abusing prescription drugs. The correlation between the two is undeniable and it is killing people and destroying families,” said Lagana. “My hope is that through a multi-faceted approach, we can start gaining some ground against this epidemic, and reverse the cycle of opioid pain medication misuse that is contributing to the opioid overdose epidemic in New Jersey.”

Added Lagana, “Allowing loved ones to seek treatment for users, educating health care professionals on pain medication alternatives to treat patients and educating patients about the risks that come with taking pain medication can help us regain some control and spare another family from the perils of addiction.”

The first bill would establish a process that would allow an individual to petition the courts for the involuntary commitment of another individual for treatment for substance use disorder.

Specifically, the bill would provide for a “petitioner” who is the spouse, civil union partner, relative, friend, or guardian of an individual to submit to the court a petition for the involuntary commitment of the individual to treatment for a substance use disorder. The petition must be accompanied by a guarantee obligating the spouse, civil union partner, relative, friend, or guardian of the individual to pay all costs for treatment of the individual that is ordered by the court.

“Many drug users want help, but are rendered helpless by their addiction,” said Lagana. “Addiction not only hurts the people using, but those close to them. People who have the best interest of these individuals at heart should have the option to get them treatment.”

The second bill would require that every prescription for a controlled dangerous substance, prescription legend drug, or other prescription item be transmitted electronically using an electric health records system. This requirement would take effect one year after the date of enactment.

The third bill would add naloxone hydrochloride, and other opioid antidotes, to the list of prescription drugs that are to be monitored as part of the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program. While the PMP focuses on monitoring the dispensation of controlled dangerous substances in the state, and although opioid antidotes are not considered to be controlled dangerous substances, the sponsor noted that information related to the dispensation of opioid antidotes is nonetheless relevant to determinations regarding the prescription and dispensation of controlled dangerous substances.

The bill, called “John Wagner’s Law, is named after the son of former Assemblywoman Connie Wagner who lost his battle with opioid addiction. Lagana holds the seat vacated by Wagner.

Lagana said the bill came about after hearing from local law enforcement and addiction specialists that they needed naloxone deployment data to help with their prevention efforts.

The fourth bill would require certain health care professionals to meet continuing education requirements on topics related to prescription opioid drugs as a condition of renewal of a professional license, certification or registration. Under the bill, health care professionals with the authority to prescribe opioid medications, including physicians, physician assistants, and dentists would be required to complete one continuing education credit on topics that include responsible prescribing practices, alternatives to opioids for managing and treating pain, and the risks and signs of opioid abuse, addiction and diversion. Health care professionals without prescribing authority would be required to complete one continuing education credit on alternatives, risks and signs of abuse.

The credits required under this bill would be part of a professional’s regular continuing education credits and would not increase the total number of continuing education credits required.

The last two measures are resolutions.

The first resolution respectfully urges the State Board of Medical Examiners to adopt the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, United States 2016 to improve patient safety and educate patients about the risks and benefits of opioid use as a pain management treatment. “Given that many drug users moved to heroin after becoming addicted to opioids, it is critical that patients be informed about the risks associated with pain medications,” said Lagana.

The second resolution urges school districts and nonpublic schools to adopt a policy, as suggested by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Medical Advisory Committee, to address the abuse of prescription opioids by students. The policy would include: notification to the school nurse by the student’s parent or guardian if an opioid medication has been prescribed; and drug monitoring if the student demonstrates any signs of symptoms that raise the possibility of opioid abuse during or beyond the duration of the prescription. The resolution would be distributed by the state Board of Education to all public and nonpublic schools.

“Heroin addiction has become the number one health crisis facing the state, and according to a 2014 report released by the Task Force on Heroin and other Opiate Use by New Jersey’s Youth and Young Adults, it is affecting young people previously thought to be at low risk of addiction,” said Lagana. “Young people may not fully understand how addictive and destructive a prescription pill can be until it is too late. Adopting targeted policies can help us detect any signs of opioid abuse early and intervene before the problem becomes too big to handle.”