TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie signed an executive order Wednesday, Jan. 18 declaring the opioid epidemic a public health crisis in New Jersey.
“We must take aggressive action to get this insidious crisis under control, so I am calling together all resources of state government in order to save lives,” Christie said in a press release. “The human cost of this epidemic is incalculable, impacting every part of life in New Jersey, affecting our education system, our health care system, public safety and the financial security of every person it touches.”
The press release states that according to the U.S. Surgeon General, an American dies every 19 minutes from an opioid or heroin overdose. New Jersey’s drug overdose death rate increased by almost 22 percent between 2014 and 2015. There was a 30 percent increase in heroin deaths over the previous year and triple the number of deaths caused by the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Additionally, the CDC reported that health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication in 2012 – enough for every adult in the United States to have a bottle of pills.
The executive order creates the Governor’s Task Force on Drug Abuse Control, to be headed by Charlie McKenna, executive director of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority.
The task force will be charged with developing and executing a comprehensive, coordinated strategy to combat the drug-abuse epidemic by working with all areas of state government, local and federal government, private entities and the Facing Addiction Task Force, the release stated.
It will consist of eight members, including the attorney general and the commissioners of health, human services, corrections, education, children and families and banking and insurance.
According to the release, the task force will review statutes and regulations that put up barriers between people suffering from addiction and the treatment they need and make recommendations to rescind or amend them. The panel is authorized to call upon any department, office, division or agency of the state to supply it with information, personnel or other assistance the task force deems necessary.
The order directs Attorney General Chris Porrino to take steps to limit the prescribing of opioids for acute pain and establish standards for subsequent prescriptions. so that when they are prescribed, subsequent presci may
The order directs Department of Children and Families Commissioner Allison Blake to ensure residential substance abuse treatment facilities use their spaces effectively, including ensuring that 18- and 19-year-olds with substance abuse problems can take advantage of vacancies wherever appropriate, the release stated.
In addition, the governor is directing Acting Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington to develop a comprehensive grade-specific curriculum to educate children about the dangers of substance abuse.
“Opioid drug abuse is one of the most challenging issues facing us not only as Americans but as New Jerseyans,” Christie said. “The crisis is pervasive – impacting our families, friends, neighbors and co-workers. The steps I am taking today through this Executive Order recognize the severity of the crisis and pull together the efforts of all state government agencies.”