N.J. attorney general clamping down on painkillers
N.J. Attorney General Chris Porrino
TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Attorney General Chris Porrino is using emergency powers to impose some of the toughest restrictions in the United States on painkiller prescriptions, part of an aggressive campaign against drug addiction outlined by Gov. Chris Christie that could also include an investigation into relationships between doctors and drug manufacturers.
In a letter to the Board of Medical Examiners last week, Porrino cited his emergency powers and said he would amend several state regulations on the practice of medicine to prevent "the tragic consequences of the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic."
The key change would be to cut doctors' ability to prescribe 30 days' worth of opioid painkillers — such as Percocet, OxyContin, Vicodin and generic alternatives — down to five days' worth for cases of acute pain.
Gov. Chris Christie
"Profit, by physicians or the pharmaceutical industry, must never be a rationale for contributing to the death of our citizens by overprescribing of these drugs,” Christie said.
Asked about Christie's remarks, Porrino said in a brief interview: "I heard what he said and there are a number of facts out there that are concerning, and we take them very, very seriously. I can't tell you whether we have an ongoing investigation or we don't, but we take this issue very, very seriously and it's one that … is not getting better."
Several states have passed laws imposing a seven-day limit on opioid painkiller prescriptions, including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and New York. Porrino said New Jersey would be the first to reduce the window to five days. The new rules he is proposing would allow doctors to prescribe more painkillers after a direct consultation in person or by phone.
"You could be under the care of a doctor and become addicted," Porrino told a group of several hundred students in Fort Lee High School on Friday, where he was a freshman in 1981. Citing figures from the American Society of Addiction Medicine, he said "four out of five heroin addicts that are walking the streets became addicted through prescription opioids."
Some of his classmates who became addicted to prescription painkillers or heroin died or lost their families or jobs, Porrino said. "It's not a great picture," he said.
"If the doctor is going to prescribe you painkillers, ask them, 'Is it addictive? And what alternatives are there?'" he told the students.
New Jersey recorded 1,306 drug deaths in 2014 and 1,587 in 2015, an increase of 21%. Christie said in his speech the figure represented four times the number of homicides and three times the number of car-accident deaths.
Statewide statistics for 2016 are not yet available. Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal said there were 90 drug deaths in the county last year, a number that would have been higher if not for the emergency use of Narcan, an antidote to opiates.
Bergen County officials administered Narcan 180 times last year, Grewal said. So far this year, five people in the county have died from drug overdose, he added.
"No pocket in this county is safe from it. It’s affecting rich and poor, young and old, male and female, educated and uneducated," he said. "Not a day goes by where we don’t have a heroin arrest, a heroin overdose, a Narcan save, or a heroin fatality."
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