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In the News: NJ Heroin Epidemic Worsens

Weak ruling, out-of-date drug education, careless prescribing practices and countless obstacles to treatment have permitted and worsened a growing catastrophe of heroin and opiate addiction among New Jersey adolescence, according to a determined and long overdue state task force report released Tuesday.

The 88-page report, the product of two years of study, open hearings and official examination, offers a wide variety of policy recommendations, from public alertness campaigns and reinforced oversight of doctors to insurance reform and lengthened treatment programs. It also firmly places New Jersey among a group of northeastern states, from Pennsylvania to Maine, dealing with a disturbing flow of heroin addiction. “The skyrocketing use of heroin and other opiates has become the number one health care crisis confronting New Jersey,” the report states. And the numbers are blatant: Nearly two-thirds of the state’s 1,294 drug-related fatalities in 2012 involved opiates, as well as heroin.

In 2012, there were over 8,300 admissions to state-certified substance abuse treatment programs for prescription drug abuse — an increase of approximately 700 percent over the past era. The Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse received the report Tuesday and displayed it on the council website later in the day. But in spite of eagerness among legislators and officials, it remains to be seen whether the planned reforms will gain power.

The report and its 18 references do not differ fundamentally from a private October draft of the report acquired and written about by The Record in December: at the time, the council and Governor Christie’s office traded responsibility for its late release. New Jersey’s task force report seems to be the first of its kind and scope, but other states across the Northeast have raised fears about the rise in heroin addiction.

In New Jersey, Christie has extended the state’s drug courts and signed legislation to guard those who help those suffering from an overdose. Rutgers recovery counselor Frank Greenagel Jr. led the state’s task force, but said he wished the report had been more determined. He doubts that some of the large-scale recommendations will be set aside because of price or politics. “You can tell a government is serious when it is putting money toward things, and that I am a little less optimistic about,” he stated.

Showered with photos and summaries of young people who have died from overdoses, the report draws an obvious link between the widespread accessibility and abuse of prescription pain­kill­ers and addiction to heroin. “Because readily-available prescription pills have become a gateway drug, heroin is finding its way into the world of people who never imagined that they would ever confront this terrible substance,” the report states. The task force calls for upgraded continuing medical education for doctors, and urges the legislature to work with the pharmaceutical trade to deliver resources for individuals looking for treatment.

It also calls for an intense enlargement of the state’s prescription monitoring program. The program, launched in 2012, is charitable and “falling far short of its potential” — less than 18 percent of qualified prescribers and pharmacologists were signed up, as of last month. The task force calls for requiring registration, increasing access to the registry’s database for treatment and mental health providers, and sharing real-time prescription informations across states.

Forty-eight states now have prescription monitoring programs, many of which command registration, or oblige that doctors and pharmacists check the database when prescribing certain controlled substances. Beyond the excess of prescription pills and low-cost heroin, obstacles to treatment, including a lack of facilities and blotchy insurance coverage, have been defined by New Jersey officials, parents and addicts as a mostly critical problem. At a sequence of public hearings the task force held in 2012, parents told of the close impracticality of securing full care for their adult children, some of whom died while on waiting lists for detox centers, or overdosed soon after leaving a short-range recovery facility. Just six percent of youth and young adults in need of treatment for substance addiction get the treatment they require — 14,200 out of 234,000, according to the report. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll free 1-800-951-6135.


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