In January 2017, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed an executive order classifying the state’s opioid epidemic as a public health crisis.
The executive order followed Christie’s State of the State address in early January, where he pledged to make the fight against opioid use disorder one of his main priorities during his last year in office. The order will set in place a task force that will collaborate with the government and community to develop strategies to fight opioid abuse.
“Every day we wait there are more kids and young adults getting bottles of pills,” said Christie. “If we can stop that, we can at least save some lives.”
The executive order will reduce the initial supply of opioids a doctor can prescribe from 30 days to five days, and it requires a medical visit for a prescription renewal.
Christie told attendees of his address that substance use disorders were not a moral failing but a treatable disease. He pointed out that drugs affect families, children, the health care system, law and order, the economy and jobs.
“This is the face of the epidemic of addiction that is ravaging our state and its people. In fact, it is ravaging our entire country,” said Christie in his State of the State speech. He added that the state could no longer ignore the number of deaths caused by substance use disorders.
The governor’s plans to combat opioid abuse include a television advertising campaign to promote a new website and a hotline aimed at raising awareness about substance abuse treatment.
“New Jerseyans with drug addiction deserve a second chance. New Jersey is making it easier to find treatment,” said Christie in the TV ad, which appeared in three states.
In his State of State address, Christie said he will change regulations to allow treatment facilities for children and families to help older teens struggling with drug abuse. He proposed an investment of $12 million into young adult substance abuse treatment and $1 million into college housing programs for students in recovery. He also spoke of collaborating with Koch Industries to facilitate employment of former inmates.
Christie told the audience that the state increased funding for drug rehabilitation treatment by more than $127 million in 2016, and he plans to propose the same funding for 2017. He also said his administration would increase efforts to teach parents how to keep their prescription medications away from their children.
The school curriculum will be modified to educate students about opioids. Through a program called Project Pride, the New Jersey Department of Corrections plans to bring minimum security prisoners to middle and high schools to speak to students about how drugs led them to substance abuse and prison.
On Jan. 30, 2017, New Jersey’s Legislature advanced the opioid epidemic bills proposed by Christie. Health insurance companies regulated by the state will now be required to cover inpatient and outpatient treatment costs for up to six months.
New Jersey recorded 918 opioid-related deaths in 2015, a record for the state. The rate of heroin deaths in the state was 2.5 times the national average that year, per NJ.com.
In his State of the State address, the governor said that roughly 1,600 people from New Jersey succumbed to drug overdoses in 2015, which was four times the number of murders in the state and three times the number of road casualties.
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According to a 2014 report by the Task Force on Heroin and Other Opiate Use by New Jersey’s Youth and Young Adults, the increasing heroin and opioid use has become a public health crisis. The report linked prescription drugs and heroin to the surge. In 2012, prescription drug abuse was responsible for more than 8,300 admissions to state-licensed drug and alcohol treatment programs, a 700 percent increase over 10 years.
“This spike in fentanyl deaths starkly illustrates the tremendous challenge we face to stem the alarming growth in opioid abuse in New Jersey and across the nation,” said New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino in an interview with NJ.com.