Democratic and Republican lawmakers announce package to fight drug abuse ‘epidemic’

TRENTON – Lawmakers in both the Assembly and the Senate announced this afternoon their intent to introduce a 21-bill legislative package to wipe from the streets what they see as one of the largest health crises facing New Jersey residents today: heroin and prescription drug abuse.

“It’s being traffic in our state through our ports, in our airports, over our highways, and it’s getting into the hands of young people who are purchasing it roughly at the price of a package of cigarettes,” state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37)said during a press conference in the Statehouse today where lawmakers and health experts gathered to introduce the package. “It’s taking the lives of residents in cities and in suburbs, it crosses socio-economic lines and racial boundaries. It is devastating to families … loved ones and its ruining countless lives. We have to end this cycle of addiction overdose and death in our communities.”

The newly-minted package, a “bipartisan” effort on the part of Republican and Democratic lawmakers, as well as health experts and advocates, will focus on improving paths to evidence-based prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts for opiate addiction in the state, according to Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee Chairmen Joseph Vitale (D-19). Vitale announced the legislation today alongside fellows Republican and Democratic lawmakers like  Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee Chairman Herb Conaway (D-7), Assemblywomen Mary Pat Angelini (R-11) and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), and state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-20).

One bill in the package, Weinberg, its sponsor, said, aims to ensure that patients receiving prescription medication are given information about the addictive risks involved. Another bill seeks to update expand and improve prescription monitoring programs in the state to increase participation, broaden access, and improve surveillance.

“Somebody needs to start looking at the cost of our failure to act,” Conaway, a practicing physician based in Trenton, said. “It can’t be, ‘I have a problem and now I have no where to go’. That’s what people hear today. We need to make sure our healthcare system works for people who have addiction.”

All — including parents who spoke at the conference about losing loved ones to addiction  — agreed the state is facing an “epidemic” when it comes to its young people overdosing on opiates like pain killers and heroine.

“We all know unfortunately that crime, addiction, incarceration and death, they all go together,” Lesniak said. “It’s a pervasive problem that every single one of us knows, or knows someone who was affected by it. This package that has been spearheaded by Senator Vitale will serve as a model that will spread across the nation.”

Vitale said the package, much of which will be introduced in the Senate tomorrow, has the support for Gov. Chris Christie but will require a heavy investment from the state to make it work. He estimated that the whole package will cost “tens of millions of dollars … to make a difference.”

Speaking to PolitickerNJ following the meeting, Vitale stressed the importance of this sort of legislation in combatting what he sees as a growing public health crisis in the state.

“It’s prevention, it’s education, it’s treatment and it’s recovery,” he said. “So there are really four legs to this and you can’t do one without the other. You can’t play whack-a-mole with addiction. So it’s an investment with treatment and providers and access.”

“It’s a public health crisis, it’s an epidemic,” he added. “If we don’t do something at least incremental or long term then we’re going to lose a whole lot of kids in this generation. Every other text message I get nowadays says oh we lost another one. The purity of heroine, the access — you know it’s fun, once you get high, it’s fun, but then before you know it you’re stealing money from your parents dresser to pay for drugs.”

Democratic and Republican lawmakers announce package to fight drug abuse ‘epidemic’