NJ Drug Advocates Push Opiate Bill

Drug advocates in New Jersey are hoping to pass a new bill as a way to reduce addiction the rates of prescription opiate addiction among teens.
Nina Fenton
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There may come a time in a child or teenager’s life when opiates are prescribed to help manage pain associated with an accident, injury, surgical procedure or medical condition. Unfortunately, the use of these medications is coupled with the very real risk of addiction. A risk that increases by 33% for teenagers previously prescribed opiates, which those who are currently fighting tooth and nail to escape its clutches know all too well.

Drug Advocates in New Jersey are acutely aware of the dangers laid at the feet of young people using prescribed pain medications as well as their increased risk of turning to more dangerous drugs like heroin when the opiate itch gets harder to scratch. As a result, a new bill requiring physicians to go the extra mile when prescribing opiates to anyone under the age of 18 by providing parents with a greater amount of information.

Elaine Pozycki, chair of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, knows first hand how devastating opiate addiction can be after her son, Steven, overdosed on heroin after using prescription painkillers after a sports injury. She’s doing her best to be a voice in the fight against addiction during the “critical window of vulnerability” teenagers face when handed drugs on a silver platter.

“Had I been told about the addictive qualities of the medicines Steven was prescribed, I would have known to look for alternatives. I would have known to look for the signs and symptoms of abuse,” said and mother of a deceased opiate addict,” she said.

Parent Notification Bill – A4760

The Parent Notification Bill (A4760) will serve as a means to arm parents with information about opiates prescribed to their children in an effort to combat addiction. Rather than blindly administering these highly addictive medications, parents will be able to utilize the information they are provided to explore alternative treatment options, monitor the intake and keep an out for warning signs that an addiction is starting to take root.

The bill will require a physician prescribing opiate medications to obtain a signed agreement acknowledging that the risk of addiction was discussed from the guardian of the patient or the patient if they are emancipated. The exact guidelines within the bill have yet to be ironed out, but the State Division of Consumer Affairs is ready and waiting while lawmakers work towards a decision.

This is a step in the right direction for New Jersey and a necessary on that will hopefully change the its standing state with the sixth-highest youth opiate overdose rate in the country.

The Data Doesn’t Lie

The research recently released from the John Hopkins University School of Public Health found that there are serious inefficiencies in the prescribing of opiates. 85% of the doctors surveyed as part of the study said that opiate medications are over-prescribed, which is in line with other data reporting that these medications are doled out to patients “in quantities and for conditions that are excessive.”

“The bottom line is we’re not seeing consistent, effective, appropriate prescribing of painkillers across the nation. And this is a problem because of the deaths that result,” said Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Doctors were misinformed about the high risk of addiction,” continued Dr. Kolodny. “They grossly underappreciate how addictive and risky these drugs are,” adds Dr. Andrew Kolondy, co-founder of Physicians for Responsible Opiod Prescribing and Chairman of Psychiatry at Maimonides Medical Center.

He supports the bill and believes a more thorough explanation of prescription opiate use would be an effective way of opening a dialogue regarding the dangers associated with these medications, saying “If doctors and patients and parents understood that hydrocodone and oxycodone were essentially heroin pills, I think they would be much ore careful.”

Blocking the Bill

Chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, Herb Conaway holds the key to the bill making its way before New Jersey lawmakers. This isn’t likely to happen anytime soon without his support, though, which he isn’t too keen to offer up at this point.

The bulk of Conaway’s reservations stem from the ripple effect that could be felt if legislators wedge their way into the medical arena, calling for new laws that would require doctors to discuss other sensitive topics with patients. To avoid this, he suggested that more focus be placed on the educating the public about the risks associated with the use and misuse of opiates as well as making a greater effort to raise awareness about addiction.

While a reduction in addiction rates is important to him and as is the need for any medication risks to be discussed. Conaway doesn’t, however, feel that it’s the government’s place to step in and tell doctors how and what they need to say. He said, “The concerns that I have deal with intrusions by the government in the doctor-patient relationship. I don’t believe that the government has a role interfering with the speech that occurs between patients and physicians. It’s critical to good outcomes in healthcare. Just because a goal is good, doesn’t mean we ought to be prepared to put aside first principles.”

Another concern voiced by Conaway centered around the roadblocks patients with chronic pain may encounter if the bill is enacted. “For decades, chronic pain was an unrecognized and untreated problem, and people suffered – unable to work, unable to interact with their family, unable to really enjoy their life – because the medical community basically ignored the problem of chronic pain,” he said.

Fate of Bill A4760 Unknown

So, it seems as though Bill A4760 is in limbo until Conaway makes a decision one way or the other. That doesn’t mean its advocates are done fighting to spare more children and teenagers from falling through the cracks into addiction, though.

Elaine Pozycki called for the Assemblyman to act at a State House press conference earlier this month. “Dr. Conway, I implore you to post this bill, and stop preventing New Jersey parents from becoming informed about the addictive qualities of the medicine their children are being prescribed,” she said.

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Nina works hard to be a voice to the voiceless whose stories about drug testing, DNA testing and paternity deserve to be told. It is her goal to always come from a place free of judgment and full of compassion.

WRITTEN BY

Nina works hard to be a voice to the voiceless whose stories about drug testing, DNA testing and paternity deserve to be told. It is her goal to always come from a place free of judgment and full of compassion.

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