New Jersey lawmakers haven’t been able to stop talking about illegal drugs. Most recently, they’ve been talking about naloxone, pronounced “null-OX-own.” Naloxone has zero possibility for addiction and it definitely won’t get you high, but it does rapidly reverse the effects of opioid overdoses (e.g., heroin, oxycodone, OxyContin, morphine, etc.)
This ongoing conversation is evidence of a movement toward more sensible drug policies in N.J. Drug overdose deaths unfortunately had to reach epidemic levels, overtaking motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of accidental death, before anything changed. But now is the time to correct the inefficiencies and inadequacies of past policies.
Opioids, New Jersey’s most abused drugs, are responsible for most fatal drug overdoses that occur here. Drug Policy Alliance statistics report 752 overdose deaths throughout N.J. in 2009. Both prescription and illicit opioids were involved in over 75 percent of those potentially preventable deaths.
If naloxone was made readily available to the citizenry and more people were trained to use it, maybe less people would die from opioid overdoses.
Assemblyman Dan Benson (D) from District 14 (Mercer/Middlesex) proposed the Opioid Antidote and Overdose Prevention Act, a bill proposing more naloxone in more hands, and widespread training in how to safely and effectively administer this medication that can bring you back from the dead.
The Overdose Prevention Act seeks to make it easier for doctors in N.J. to write prescriptions for naloxone, thus fixing a broken policy that currently causes more problems than it solves. Restricting a doc’s ability to help other people is not beneficial to society.
A practicing attorney and professor of Law and Society at MCCC, Ammandeep Seehra said in a recent interview with The VOICE, “The naloxone bill is easier to pass than the Good Samaritan bill because we’re talking about medical workers gaining access and the right to administer (Naloxone.) It’s definitely got legs.”
Co-sponsored in the Senate by Democratic Senators Joseph Vitale, Jim Whelan, Jeff Van Drew, (former Governor) Richard Codey, and Republican Senators Christopher Bateman and Anthony R. Bucco, respectively, bipartisan support for the naloxone bill comes on the heels of Governor Christie’s veto of the Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act at the end of 2012. See the article entitled, “Leaving your friends to die,” by Carl Fedorko in the Feb. 2013 edition of the VOICE for more on the Governor’s disservice to his constituents.
Clearly, New Jersey’s elected officials (with the exception of the Governor) support a comprehensive overdose prevention strategy.
Dan O’Connell, Director of the HIV Prevention Division in the New York State Health Department said in a New York Times interview, “It’s a no-brainer. For someone experiencing an overdose, naloxone can be the difference between life and death.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently located 50 programs nationally that trained and distributed naloxone to over 53,000 people responsible for reversing over 10,000 overdoses between 1996 and 2010. No such program has ever existed in New Jersey, despite their continued success elsewhere.
Since the necessary training required to safely and effectively administer naloxone is simple to complete, Professor Seehra mentioned the possibility that “Opioid users who have the initiative to participate in a needle exchange (a proven method of reducing disease transmission between intravenous drug users) might have the ability to learn how to administer naloxone, and maybe the initiative to administer it to other users.”
When the solution is located close to the problem, it can be implemented faster, and often, more effectively.
The N.J. Legislature declared naloxone “inexpensive” and encourage “the wider prescription and distribution (of naloxone) to those at risk for an opioid overdose, or to members of their families or peers, would reduce the number of opioid overdose deaths and be in the best interests of the citizens of this State.”
We have medications that make people quit smoking cigarettes. Doctors routinely pump 8 year old kids full of stimulants when they’re “too hyper.” But, naloxone is extremely regulated and complex to prescribe.
It’s easier for doctors in New Jersey to prescribe drugs like OxyContin, which carries huge potential for abuse, than it is to prescribe naloxone, which can save your life. That’s not logic.
At age 7, I gave my grandmother a shot of epinephrine from her epi-pen after she received a bee-sting. I’m sure that story isn’t unique. I’m sure there are Mercer students who’ve administered epinephrine, insulin, or nitroglycerine pills to a friend or loved one in crisis. I knew diabetic kids in elementary school who gave themselves daily shots of insulin.
The point is, even a child can be taught to effectively administer life-saving medications. Surely firefighters, nurses, dentists, police officers, therapists, teachers, addicts, and parents of addicts could learn to administer naloxone.
Naloxone isn’t new. It was created in the 1960’s. Shortly after, President Nixon declared war on drugs, guaranteeing American involvement in one of many long-term, financially unsustainable, and ultimately unwinnable “wars” for generations. The Reagan 80’s saw the apex of the crack cocaine epidemic and more intense implementation of “ zero-tolerance,””drug-control” strategies. All the while, people overdosed on opioids, and the public lacked large-scale access to naloxone. Countless lives could have been saved if only the government made naloxone regularly available.
See, some purposeful, past public servant recognized that more overdose death, among other things, means the appearance of a bigger, more dangerous drug problem that requires more federal money to combat. Since, in a capitalistic society, bigger budgets are always viewed as a positive change, anything that results in less money or a smaller budget is often viewed as a governmental failure.
The resulting thought processes of fiscally-concerned politicians (e.g., every career politician ever) go something like this: “saving lives equals less drug overdose deaths, and less overdose deaths result in less federal money. Therefore, saving lives is a bad thing because saving lives means less money.” It’s that simple: Profit over people.
The spin you’ll hear from the political-types that oppose the Opioid Antidote and Overdose Prevention Act is a viewpoint based in fear and misinformation, not fact. They would rather vote against life-saving policies so they can claim to be tough on drugs next election season. But in this instance, opposing the Overdose Prevention Act is the same as voting in favor of MORE fatal drug overdoses statewide. The American predilection toward fighting unwinnable wars against faceless enemies like drugs breeds policies that fail the same citizens they’re supposedly designed to protect. The focus is on punishment and detention, not treatment or rehabilitation. The Opioid Antidote and Overdose Prevention Act serves as testament that in New Jersey, the focus is shifting.
Let’s let drug policy more resemble a public service than a law enforcement crusade. If we do, we reduce the overall cost of law enforcement from top to bottom. These policy changes mean a reduction to the costs necessary to run the state and therefore a reduction in taxpayer expense.
Governor Thomas H. Kean used to say “Good policy is good politics.” Hopefully his words still reverberate through the porticos and passageways of the State House. Saving lives is not a partisan issue, but it is certainly good policy.