New Jersey’s Heroin Epidemic: State report is calling for huge reforms

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heroin Staring down the black hole that has killed thousands of New Jerseyans, the black hole that is known as New Jersey’s heroin problem and lack of treatment for it, the governor’s task force on heroin and opiate abuse on Tuesday will call for a wide array of reforms to combat the state’s addiction epidemic, actually stating it’s “time to combat our demons.”

A copy of the report, obtained by The Star-Ledger, proposes huge changes to not only the state’s prescription pill monitoring laws, but also improvements to an insurance system that stacks the deck against drug addicts and expanded use of recovery communities for students with opioid addiction. 

The panel’s report comes after two years of study, the findings are of course a type of road map that is designed to combat addiction, coming shortly after the numbers of drug related deaths have skyrocketed, rising to 53 percent from 2010 to 2012, with more than two thirds, of those fatalities involving prescription drug abuse. 

The report details a two step system of action that will begin tackling the state’s addiction problem. State officials want to stop the flow of prescription pills coming from doctor’s offices and medicine cabinets that creates new addicts, while improving a failing rehab system. 

The representatives for the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse declined to comment in advance of the report’s actual publication. The 16 member panel that drafted the report included medical professionals, representatives from the addiction treatment community, law enforcement leaders and former Governor James McGreevey. 

The report stated that there are are new pathways to heroin addiction. Which of course makes sense. The new pathway is that young pill addicts can no longer afford to gain access to painkillers so they turn to heroin which is potent, available and cheap. Of the 8,300 New Jersey residents admitted to drug treatment programs for opiate addiction in 2012, more than 40% were younger than 25, the report said. 

“If you are going to address the heroin problem, you’ve got to drill down on the pill problem,” said Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato. “That’s how people get addicted to heroin.” 

Ocean County has been the hub for New Jersey’s drug struggles. A record breaking 112 people died of drug overdoses there in 2013, more than double the year before. The overwhelming majority of those deaths were linked to opiates. 

Only 18% of the state’s licensed prescribers and pharmacies were on board to participate in February 2014, so the report called for legislation mandating participation. State officials hope wider compliance will help doctors identify patients with drug problems, while calling attention to physicians who overprescribe and addicts who engage in “doctors shopping,” the practice of obtaining multiple prescriptions from different physicians. 

The task force is also taking aim at insurers, after hearing testimonials from families whose sons and daughters died while on waiting lists for treatment. Many patients said they were advised to lie about their condition, such as claiming they were suicidal or alcohol dependent in order to gain treatment for heroin addiction, the report said. 

Several of the victims described in the report suffered relapses and died after they were booted from treatment facilities unwilling to provide long-term care. 

The report also urged the state to consider creating “recovery high schools,” addiction treatment communities that allow recovering addicts to attend class together in a supportive environment, rather than return them to the schools where they likely first became addicted to painkillers. 

The high school program has worked with success in other states. Studies show 93% of high school students are offered drugs in their first day back at school from a treatment facility, addicts who attend recovery high school programs have an 80% abstinence rate. 

While the program could be met with some resistance due to the costs, state legislators said New Jersey HAS to weigh the short and long term cost of initiating something like this program agains the long term costs of not initiating this program. 

What do you think? What can New Jersey do to help offer solutions to a seriously lethal epidemic?