N.J. may be first state to require opioid labels warning of addiction risk

This Feb. 19, 2013, file photo, shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy. (Toby Talbot/AP Photo)

This Feb. 19, 2013, file photo, shows OxyContin pills arranged for a photo at a pharmacy. (Toby Talbot/AP Photo)

New Jersey could become the first state in the country to require warning labels on prescription opioid medication that identifies it as an opioid and cautions against the risk of addiction.

The legislation’s sponsor hopes that the latest attempt to stem the state’s ongoing opioid crisis will save lives.

“We have to be aware of what this is. We have to be aware of what this is doing to our country. It is truly an epidemic,” said Assemblyman John Armato, D-Atlantic.

The proposal would require pharmacies to affix the label — which would be black with red lettering — to prescription medication that is an opioid.

Armato, who is also a recovery coach, said he got the idea after talking to a woman about her son, who was taking prescription medication.

She said “thank goodness that he wasn’t on an opiate. She reads about opiates in the newspaper every day. She’s scared to death of it and just glad her son’s not on it,” Armato recalled. “And I asked her what he’s taking. And she said [the pain reliever] Percocet. And I said Percocet is an opiate. And she didn’t know that.”

Dr. Lewis Nelson, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at New Jersey Medical School, said it is always wise to inform patients about medication, but education may not be enough to stop addiction.

“It’s the same thing you could say about cigarettes or eating in your car: We all know it’s not a good idea, but many people still do it,” Nelson said.

The state Assembly is expected to soon take up a slightly amended version of the bill, which has already passed the state Senate.

If passed, it will go to Gov. Phil Murphy for his signature.

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