New Jersey 101.5 related video

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie, who has made fighting substance abuse the centerpiece of his final year in office, signed legislation addressing the state’s opioid abuse epidemic minutes after the bill was passed by the Legislature.

During the signing Wednesday, Christie stressed the only way to stop the opioid epidemic is to help prevent people from becoming addicted, while also offering treatment for those who are already addicted.

“We have to approach it holistically because what we’ve tried to do over the past 30 years is arrest our way out of the problem and we haven’t been able to do it. It’s impossible to do it,” he said.

One measure requires health insurance coverage in New Jersey for substance use disorders for 180 days, while limiting the amount of an initial opioid prescription to five days. The legislation also requires certain health care professionals to get training on topics related to prescription opioid drugs.

A second measure, dubbed the HOPE Initiative Act, requires a public awareness campaign to be created in order to educate people about the dangers and causes and appropriate responses to heroin and opioid addiction.

A third bill requires the state Department of Education to develop a fact sheet to distribute to parents of student-athletes and cheerleaders about the use of prescription opioid painkillers.

David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ

Resolutions were also passed by the Assembly, urging school districts and private schools to adopt specific policies to address the abuse of prescription opioid drugs by students.

Another resolution urges the state Board of Medical Examiners to adopt current CDC guidelines for prescribing opioid drugs for chronic pain.

A third resolution calls on the president and Congress to take action to permit federal Medicaid funding for certain substance use disorder programs.

“Addiction is not a moral failing, it is a disease, and the more we talk about it as a disease, treat it as a disease, regulate it as a disease, the more people will get the idea that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but it is in fact a sign of strength,” Christie said.

The governor noted, however, that stopping the opioid epidemic won’t happen immediately.

“Addiction treatment is a process, and recovery is a lifelong process. We’re starting down a road that may take us five to 10 years to really see marked results that are consistent,” he said.

Angelo Valente, the executive director of the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey, said it’s crucial the legislation “covers both treatment and prevention."

"What it has done is look at the issue in a very comprehensive way.”

He also pointed out the five-day provision for initial opioid prescriptions, which has been opposed by the Medical Society of New Jersey and other doctor groups, “is right in line with what the CDC and the surgeon general have shared as a very important way to reverse the opioid epidemic. It’s based on research and I think it’s consistent with what needs to be done to deal with the epidemic.”

Valente says that public education about the abuse of opioid medication is critically important.

“We must educate students, parents and the medical community about ways in which they can help prevent individuals from leading down the path of addiction.”

Contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

Sign Up For The WOBM Newsletter