Governor’s order declares opioid epidemic a health crisis

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Gov. Chris Christie has signed Executive Order 219 declaring the opioid epidemic a public health crisis in New Jersey.

The action requires the marshalling of all appropriate resources to combat its harmful effects on state citizens, according to a Jan. 17 press release from the governor’s office.

“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. “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.”

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, according to the press release.

The new 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, in addition to local, federal and private entities, as well as the Facing Addiction Task Force, according to the press release.

The task force will review current statutes and regulations that present barriers to individuals suffering from addiction from receiving treatment and make recommendations to rescind or amend any such statutes or regulations to remove those barriers, according to the press release.

The Executive Order also directs Attorney General Chris Porrino to take all necessary steps to limit the initial prescription of opioids for acute pain and establish standards such that additional quantities may only be prescribed after further consultation with the patient.

The Executive Order further directs Department of Children and Families Commissioner Allison Blake to ensure residential substance abuse disease treatment facilities and similar facilities use their existing spaces effectively, including ensuring that 18- and 19-year-olds with substance abuse problems are able to take advantage of any vacancies in existing facilities wherever appropriate, according to the press release.