Kicking Heroin’s Ass

Insider NJ's Jay Lassiter condemns Camden County politico Steve Ayscue for using one woman's rape trauma to try and publicly shame the new head of New Jersey Working Families Alliance.

 

 Cherry Hill – Sometimes the battle to curb NJ’s ghastly addiction to opiates is a lonely one. How much longer must we sound the alarm bells? Sure, we’re finally acknowledging NJ’s voracious appetite for opiates (like heroin and Oxycontin.) Everyone’s at least talking about it now. 

But so far, our sights seem fixed on reacting to the crisis. Most legislative measures stress the need for acceptance or treatment-on-demand. That’s a good start and it surely lowers the stigma associated with addiction. But sadly, that won’t actually prevent anyone from becoming a drug addict. Indeed, this discussion remains woefully short on things like harm reduction (clean needles anyone?) or better yet …wait for it…..PREVENTION! When’s the last time you heard a policymaker stress prevention? 

An ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure, amiright?

Blessedly, NJ’s no-nonsense Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino is kicking ass and taking names. Last year he busted a record number of physicians whose pill-pushing, no-limits policy contributed to NJ’s heroin body count. (There were 1,700 opiate-related deaths in NJ last year, a 20% increase over the previous year’s total.)

“When four out of five new heroin users are getting their start by abusing prescription drugs, you have to attack the problem at ground zero: in irresponsibly run doctors’ offices,” said Porrino. “Purging the medical community of over-prescribers is as important to our cause as busting heroin rings and locking up drug kingpins.”

An absolutely withering denunciation of the physician’s role in our current crisis, wouldn’t you say? And it’s long overdue.

But wait, there’s more!

“We will not allow anyone, least of all members of the medical profession who have pledged to ‘do no harm,’ to work against us as we struggle to stem the deadly tide of addiction,” said Steve Lee, director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the state Board of Medical Examiners.

This comes on the heels of recently signed legislation placing a 5 day limit on prescription opiates for acute pain (i.e. sprained ankle, minor dental procedure.)  You’ll be hard pressed to find someone willing to deny chronic pain sufferers the relief they deserve. This new law will not affect anyone in chronic pain. It simply means you won’t get a 30 day prescription for Percocet at your next root canal. Neither will your college-aged kid. And that’s a good thing. 

Senator Joe Vitale chairs NJ’s Senate Heath Committee. He’s been trying to curb NJ’s opiate pipeline for years. 

“Limiting initial prescriptions for acute pain is an important puzzle piece toward reducing the unnecessary volume of dangerous opioids.”  Vitale told InsiderNJ. “Prescribers must now be more thoughtful and focused on their patients’ pain needs, and not (simply) provide long-term prescriptions with the hope their patients won’t misuse them.”

And then, as if on cue, Senator Vitale cited the magic word; PREVENT!

“If we’re to prevent more addiction and death, we must change the way we treat pain; from limiting supply to alternative therapies including non-opioid medication to effective physical rehabilitation.” 

The Medical Society of New Jersey and legislators like Assemblyman Herb Conaway have for many, many, many years championed a no-limits approach to dispensing opiates. They advocate for more pills for more patients of all ages at higher doses for a longer duration. Their lobbying clout in Trenton has held up progress on this issue for far too long. But those days are over. The Attorney General’s takedown is indeed a blistering repudiation of the Medical Society, its lobbyists, and its handmaidens in the Assembly. 

Governor Chris Christie devoted his final state-of-the-state address to New Jersey’s opiate epidemic. At the time, speculation was rife that Christie focused on heroin abuse to distract us from his own immense unpopularity. It’s a reasonable hypothesis but in this instance, wallowing in cynicism is wrong-headed. Myself included. Who cares what Christie’s motives are? As long as our governor is talking about NJ’s heroin crisis, that’s a good thing. And his Attorney General’s swift, decisive action  (i.e.: arresting Docs who overprescribe) proves it’s more than just talk. 

Conclusion

Two things: 

1) We do all the good physicians out there a gigantic favor by ferreting out their nefarious colleagues.

2) Modest, sensible caps on powerful, addictive drugs like Oxycontin? That’s just common sense. 

According to Senator Vitale, the new limit kicks in “90 days from enactments which was February 15.”

If my math is correct, our long-overdue new policy goes into effect on May 16th.This is, incidentally, my 45th birthday and I’ll be celebrating the meaningful progress we’re making towards prevention with these hard-fought measures. I can scarcely imagine a more meaningful birthday gift than that.

And just like that, this erstwhile quixotic battle isn’t so lonely after all.

 

Jay Lassiter is the Court Jester of New Jersey Politics. His radical agenda includes brunch and ending capital punishment. When he’s not on Twitter, Jay is probably working to keep the government out of your womb. Or your bong.

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