N.J. lawmakers push for tighter controls, better treatment in face of deadly drug abuse

 Lawmakers say they'll introduce legislation to tackle New Jersey's heroin and prescription drug-abuse epidemic. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Lawmakers say they'll introduce legislation to tackle New Jersey's heroin and prescription drug-abuse epidemic. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

A bipartisan group of New Jersey lawmakers is proposing a package of 21 bills to combat what has become an epidemic of heroin and prescription drug abuse.



The measures call for increased funding for substance-abuse prevention and higher Medicaid reimbursements to treatment providers.

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In addition, all physicians would be required to participate in a state prescription-monitoring program.

It’s time to take action, said Blackwood resident Patti DiRenzo whose son died from a heroin overdose in 2010.

“I survived stage four progressive breast cancer, and my son died from the disease of addiction because he could not treatment,” she said Wednesday. “The current system is completely failing our children. There is no other disease that faces the barriers that the disease of addiction faces. We must expand health services in New Jersey and save lives.”

Assembly Health Committee chairman Herb Conaway, a physician, agreed with DiRenzo, saying it’s important to make sure the health care system meets the needs of people who have an addiction.

“It can’t be, ‘I a have a problem and now I have no place to go.’

“‘We’re not providing this care, we’re carving it out, we’re going to ignore it, you’re on your own.’ That’s what people hear today,” Conaway said. “We need to make sure our health care system works for people who have this problem. That’s essential, and that’s going to mean doing some regulation of insurance companies.”

Conaway, D-Camden, foresees problems in getting some of the bills enacted.

One hurdle will be cost, with the measures costing tens of millions of dollars to implement.Still, Senate Health Committee chairman Joe Vitale said he’s hopeful that Gov. Chris Christie will support the changes.

Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini, a certified drug abuse-prevention specialist, said the legislation covers everything from evidence-based prevention to accessing treatment.

“It’s going to cost money, but I dare say this is a health issue. What will it cost if we don’t address it?” said Angelini, R-Ocean. “This is an investment that our children and our communities deserve.”

More than 500 New Jersey residents died from heroin abuse last year.

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