The New Jersey Legislature’s Assembly Health Committee on Wednesday unanimously passed a bill that would require opioid-antidote prescriptions for certain high-risk patients.
Assembly bill 3869, sponsored on March 23 by Assemblymen John Armato (D-Atlantic) and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), would require that medical practitioners who prescribe opioids to certain patients — specifically those with a history of substance use disorder, whose daily opioid prescription is greater than 50 morphine milligram equivalents, or who have a concurrent benzodiazepine prescription — also must give these patients a Food and Drug Administration-approved product that can reverse opioid overdoses, such as naloxone.
“One of the problems that we’re having right now is because of the COVID-19 — the overdose deaths and the disease of addiction have been put on the back burner,” Armato said prior to the Assembly Health Committee’s 13-0 vote on Wednesday. “I think this [bill] just brings it back to light that we are losing 11 residents in New Jersey per day through accidental overdoses. Hopefully, this is just one more tool in our toolkit to save lives.”
New Jersey isn’t the only state with such high rates reported during the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 60,000 drug overdose deaths take place yearly across the country, the majority involving opioids, which are a controlled dangerous substance.
The Armato-Vainieri Huttle bill reinforces that data and states that drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, with opioids being the most common drug. “Co-prescription legislation is a public health measure that coincides with existing New Jersey law that requires providers to educate patients on the risks of opioids and additionally offers a co-prescription of an opioid reversal agent, such as naloxone, that combats the effects of an overdose,” according to the bill.
Following the Assembly Health Committee’s action to advance the bill on Wednesday, Armato and Vainieri Huttle released a joint statement noting that state legislators must “do everything in our power to help give people the resources they need to combat accidental overdoses.”
“It is always a tragedy whenever lives are lost to drug overdoses. It is even more tragic when you consider just how many of those lives could have been saved through access to overdose-reversal products,” the assemblymen said. “Prescribing naloxone to at-risk patients taking opioid pain-killers for chronic or acute pain would ensure this life-saving product is immediately available in the event of an emergency.”