In 2015 1,600 New Jersey residents died from drug overdoses. A majority of the overdoses were the direct result of heroin laced with fentanyl and theses number represent an almost 300% increase since 2004. Yet, New Jersey is not alone in their struggle to combat the effects that opioid abuse has had on their state, and all across the country, communities have been ravaged by skyrocketing addiction problems and all-time high overdose rates.
However, New Jersey this past week, decided to do something about their mounting issue with opioid abuse and the State Assembly signed into legislation, by a count of 64 to 1, an anti-addiction bill that will hopefully give many New Jersey residents the opportunity to finally get the help they need.
The legislation will mandate that insurance companies offer up to six months of substance abuse treatment, it imposes the nation’s toughest limit of opioid drug prescriptions, and it calls for additional education for patients and doctors on the dangers of opioids.
Going further, the bill requires insurance plans to cover the first 4 weeks of drug treatment without the need for authorization, which is often times a sticking point for people’s ability to receive the care they need. Most people who are not familiar with how drug treatment works would be surprised to know that when anyone attends drug treatment, the facility they are attending has to call the insurance company, sometimes every few days, in order to receive coverage for the stay. This process is called Utilization Review and what it means is that their therapist or some other qualified individual at their treatment center has to call and speak to a representative at the insurance company in order to get days authorized. Very often, the insurance company will only authorize 3 to 5 days at a time, which causes unnecessary work for clinicians and also denies the client’s ability to know how long they will be able to stay in treatment for.
The bill also limits, statewide, the initial supply of opioids that a patient can receive to five days. In the past this limit was 30 days, which means that people who leave the hospital, or leave the doctor’s office with their first prescription for opioid painkillers will only have a 5 day supply. This will hopefully cut down on the number of individuals who inadvertently become addicted to painkillers after taking them for a few weeks and also reduce the number of unused pills that are in circulation. The latter is important because it is often times these unused pills that make their way into substance abusers hands, which does nothing but allow for the continuation of their addiction.
The New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie said that the legislation was historic in nature and feels that it was high time that his state finally did something about the issue that has plagued his constituents for far too long. He believed that for far too long the state has done nothing about the issue at hand, and that by imposing these mandates and limitations, they will hopefully begin to make a dent in the growing opioid problem that the state faces.
Although the bill is far from perfect, and it’s insurance mandates will only affect 30% of all insurance plans in the state due to the fact that only plans regulated by the government will be affected, it is at least a step in the right direction towards combatting the opioid epidemic in this country. It shows that lawmakers are finally beginning to wake up to the fact that opioid abuse is a serious problem in this country and that part of the reason why it has grown to the level it has, is because of lax prescribing policies and people’s inability to receive the care they need. It shows a shift in the politics of drug addiction away from punishing drug addicts and moves it a step closer towards allowing them to get the care they need, which is something that has been necessary for close to 40 years now.
Hopefully, as the bill gets funding and begins to be implemented over the next year, other states will follow suit and implement their own addiction intervention policies as well.