TRENTON – New Jersey lawmakers on both sides of the aisle reacted this week to a new report that ties prescription drug abuse to an increase in heroin use in the state.
A pair of Assembly Republicans introduced a bill Wednesday aiming to increase the state’s participation in a program that collects data on the distribution of prescription drugs. Similarly, the chairman of the Senate committee that oversees health issues indicated legislation in response to the report is forthcoming.
The responses come after a two-year study by the State Commission of Investigation found increased access to highly addictive and potent prescription pills is giving rise to increased heroin abuse in the Garden State.
“This is a law enforcement issue as well as a public health crisis,” said Sen. Joseph Vitale, (D-19), chairman of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.
“This is a crisis of near-epidemic proportions that stretches from city streets to suburban communities as it claims victims of crime, addiction and overdose that include people of all ages, income levels and ethnicities,” he said.
“I will review the SCI’s report and its recommendations more thoroughly to determine what additional steps can and should be taken by the Legislature.”
Assembly members Mary Pat Angelini, (R-11), and David Wolfe, (R-10), introduced a bill following the report’s release that seeks to curb such abuse by revising provisions of the Prescription Monitoring Program.
A4220 would increase participation in the program that collects data on prescription drug distribution.
SCI officials detailed in the report how prescription drugs intended for patients seeking pain relief are often funneled into criminal activity. The drug’s high street value encourages the diversion to illegal activity, they said.
“The drug abuse that results from those illegally dispensing prescriptions for financial gain or for what they believe is harmless recreational use is a social issue that needs to be addressed by our state-of-the art technology along with the cooperation of those who oversee and supervise their distribution,” Angelini said.
The lawmakers’ proposal would permit doctors to designate an employee from their practice to access the database and report violations to the agency that oversees the program.
“Improved oversight of those who authorize and dispense narcotics will deter and bring to justice those who put the potential for financial gain of pain medication above a patient’s welfare,” said Wolfe.
“The incidents of the out-in-the-open sale and purchase of drugs described in the report indicates that pushers have no fear. Utilizing the monitoring and reporting requirements and capabilities of the PMP sends the message to these predators that they will be caught and punished.”
The bill has been referred to the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee.