Lawmakers and drug-prevention advocates hope to reduce the amount of opioid drugs doctors prescribe in an effort to curb addiction rates in New Jersey.
State Sen. Raymond Lesniak introduced a bill Tuesday that would put restrictions on health insurance coverage for opioid medications. The bill requires prescribers to first look at alternative treatments, follow federal prescribing guidelines and explain to patients the risks of addiction to opioids before prescribing opioid pain medications.
“The reason we’re in the midst of an epidemic of overdose deaths is because the medical community has been prescribing too aggressively, and many patients become addicted,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing.
Physicians or nurses would have to complete several steps before getting an opioid drug prescription approved for a patient. Those steps include providing a patient’s medical history, conducting a physical examination and developing a medical plan for treating that patient’s pain.
They would also have to follow the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain. The CDC updated guidelines earlier this year with a focus on moving away from opioid prescriptions and toward alternative pain-management treatments.
The new federal guidelines stress patient education about the risks of opioid medications, especially the risk of addiction, abuse and links to heroin addiction.
Kolodny said in order to bring the epidemic to an end, experts need to prevent new cases of opioid addiction. This bill will help do that, he said, and is one of the few bills he has seen in the country that would “limit pain medications for prescriptions that are inappropriate.”
The number of opioid pain relievers prescribed in the U.S. has skyrocketed in the past 25 years, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The CDC reported that 62 prescriptions for pain-killers were written for every 100 residents in New Jersey in 2014.
Since 2000, the rate of drug overdose deaths in New Jersey has increased 137 percent, including an increase in the rate of overdose deaths from opioids, according to the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.
Lesniak said physicians may prescribe opioid medications outside the bill’s requirements for four to five days for people who need immediate pain relief due to severe injury. After that, prescribers would need to follow the bill’s prescribing requirements for further medication.
Exceptions to these requirements include opioids prescribed for terminal conditions and patients receiving forms of palliative care, Lesniak said.
“Awareness and education is the key factor in preventing the abuse of opiates,” said Angelo Valente, Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey executive director. “Everyone must have a role in reversing this epidemic, including lawmakers, parents, coaches, educators and, yes, even doctors and dentists.”
The bill will next head to the Senate Commerce committee.