The draft report by President Donald Trump’s commission on the opioid epidemic recommends the president declare a national emergency to confront the crisis.
The panel, led by Gov. Chris Christie, makes the case the declaration would empower the government “to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the executive branch even further to deal with this loss of life.” It says the crisis is killing 142 Americans every day.
Officials have to be cautious of going too far, but the commission is right in calling for bold action.
On the state level, New Jersey has the opportunity to take such action under legislation proposed by state Sen. Robert Singer, R-Ocean, Monmouth.
With proper precautions, Singer’s proposal to allow law enforcement access to the database of New Jersey’s Prescription Monitoring Program without a court order would be a welcome tool in the battle to stem the deadly opioid epidemic.
It would help police and prosecutors track physicians who illicitly prescribe drugs and ease their ability to investigate “doctor shopping” by those improperly seeking the drugs.
The plan is not without its critics, who worry allowing police to look into people’s private medical records without a warrant is a dangerous erosion of privacy rights.
Christie has been among the doubters. “If you’ve got enough facts to be able to look at the prescription monitoring program, then go to a court and prove that,” he said.
But he has indicated he is willing to take a closer look at the proposal if it gets to his desk.
Singer, who was inspired to write the bill by the Monmouth County prosecutor, points out his bill would require law enforcement to certify they are “engaged in a specific investigation of a practitioner, pharmacist or patient.”
If that is not enough to win Christie’s support, Singer should work with the governor, a former federal prosecutor, on how to make this tool available to police while addressing privacy concerns.
There are plenty of reasons to criticize Christie, from his often brusque treatment of critics to his beach-going choices. But his work to rally efforts against the opioid crisis is not among them.
His focus on the epidemic in his final year in office has deserved and won bipartisan backing. Earlier this year, he signed legislation that curbs initial opioid prescriptions to a five-day supply, making New Jersey’s the most strict limit in the country. The law also mandates insurance coverage for inpatient and outpatient treatment for drug addiction. In addition, Christie has helped persuade 12 states to join New Jersey in sharing information from its Prescription Monitoring Program.
The NJPMP helps prevent opioid abuse by requiring prescribers to check the database the first time a new patient receives a prescription and then on a quarterly basis for continuing use. Pharmacies have to report information daily. Since 2013, it has helped reduce opioid prescriptions 11 percent in the state.
Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni says allowing law enforcement access to the data would help identify users and professionals abusing the prescription system earlier, perhaps before the abuse ends in a fatal overdose.
That is a worthwhile goal, made all the more pressing by the national emergency the Christie-led commission has cited. Those on both sides of the privacy vs. law enforcement debate on this proposal should find common ground to make it work.