TOMS RIVER — New Jersey governor Chris Christie touted his work within the administration of President Donald Trump to combat the national opiate crisis Wednesday, speaking to a small Central Jersey crowd ahead of a leftover prescription disposal drive to take place in Toms River Saturday. Christie was in Washington yesterday, convening with senators and members of congress to discuss the crisis at the White House.
Since Trump’s high-profile passing over of Christie for a place in his cabinet, Christie has returned to addiction and recovery as his signature issue. Trump made him the head of a new White House opiate task force last month, and the state made a $15 Million ad buy for anti-drug television spots featuring the governor.
“The work that I’m doing here and the work I’m trying to encourage to be done in Washington is about making sure that we address the single biggest public health crisis of our time,” Christie said, pointing to the 259 million opiate prescriptions American doctors gave out in 2014.
Christie said that he favors an approach where pharmacies are encouraged to start building drop-off stations where parents with leftover prescription painkillers can safely dispose of the drugs so that their children aren not tempted to try them for recreational use. In February the state moved to disallow doctors from prescribing more than five days’ worth of opioid painkillers at a time, and to mandate that insurers cover 180 days of drug treatment.
The governor would like to see N.J. go the same route as Massachusetts, whose legislature passed a law mandating additional training on opiate prescriptions and addiction last year. Christie wants for the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to make similar requirements at the national level.
“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem,” Christie said from the podium, saying that while he believes drug enforcement should still be a priority, many addicts in N.J. do not seek treatment because of stigma associated with illegal drug use.
“Addiction is a disease. It is a disease that can be treated. And we have to release people from the fear that it is somehow wrong to ask for help,” he continued. “We are the most opioid-addicted nation on the earth. And this is because drug companies are actively marketing this, but it’s also because physicians are not trained on how to do this.”
New Jersey has been hit particularly hard in the crisis of the last decade. Data from the New Jersey Medical Examiner’s Office showed 1,587 drug overdose deaths in 2015, a 21 percent increase from the year before. Of those, 918 were from heroin and 417 were from Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.