Governor Christie’s Heroin Failure

Last week, Governor Cuomo and a number of legislative leaders announced a series of bills and initiatives to counter the heroin crisis in New York state.  This bi-partisan legislation was announced at a big press conference in Albany on June 14, 2016. The highlights of their work (which I’m quite impressed with) include:

1) the first time opioid drugs are prescribed, they can only be a 7 day supply (this means that Oxycotin, Percocet, Percodan, and Vicodin can no longer be handed out in 60 and 90 pill quantities to first time patients)

2) it mandates all prescribers (MDs and Advanced Nurse Practitioners) get training on pain management

3) increased the number of funded inpatient treatment beds by the state by 270

4) increased the number of funded outpatient slots by the state by 2,335

5) it ends prior authorization by insurance companies for inpatient or outpatient treatment. The first review by the insurance companies can only take place after 14 days of treatment (previously, reviews would happen after 2 or 3 days – think about that…someone from an insurance company would ask the treatment provider if the treatment has been working and how the client is doing after 2 days…and also think about how much time these treatment providers have to spend on the phone with the insurance companies, every few days)

6) it addresses insurance coverage and how insurance companies are not paying for treatment, despite the legal requirement to do so as dictated by the 2008 Mental Health and Addiction Parity Act and the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

7) it mandates that insurance plans pay for Naloxone (the anti-overdose drug)

All seven are good, but 1, 5 and 6 are incredible. What is particularly impressive is that Governor Cuomo was able to work with the NY legislature, whose leadership has continually been in trouble for years (click here, here or here for the horrid and sordid details).

Governor Christie’s failures in dealing with the heroin and opioid epidemic are lengthy. He delayed the Task Force report by 18 months and then did not take any action on the recommendations. He has failed to mandate the PMP in NJ. He vetoed the creation of more recovery high schools. He got a standing ovation at the Statehouse in January when he announced a $100 million for addiction prevention and treatment, but he never put the money aside (so there are no programs – but he still got his ovation and media attention).

The successes that have happened while he has been Governor happened in spite of him, rather than because of him. Advocates like Linda Surks, Patty DiRenzo, Paul Ressler; politicians like Senators Vitale and Lesniak, and the members of the Camden County Freeholders; former Deputy Attorney General Calcagni and hundreds of other hard workers have been the driving forces behind the Good Samaritan Law, Narcan Expansion, the Recovery High School, prescription drug drop off boxes, and the stunning fact that law enforcement officers carry Narcan and look at addiction as more of a public health issue than a criminal one.

NJ Assemblyman Joseph A. Lagana of District 38 introduced a number of bills last week that seeks to combat the heroin epidemic in NJ (none of them are as forward thinking as the aforementioned NY laws). His four bills (I’m taking all of this from an email he sent out last week):

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. (this is my favorite of the four)

When I spoke with the Assemblyman at a panel discussion last week, he admitted that it was an uphill battle and that many of these would not pass the legislature or if they did, that Christie would almost certainly veto them. And that gets to the heart of the problem here in NJ – while Governor Cuomo passes meaningful legislation in NY by working with a historically crime-infested legislature, Governor Christie shuts down bridges, goes to Cowboy games, and campaigns for Trump. While he dithers, people die.

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