Is NJ’s effort to reduce prescription painkillers paying off in war on addiction?
New Jersey’s opioid epidemic continues to rage on, but there are a few hopeful signs the trend may finally be starting to change.
Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the total prescriptions written for opioid pain medication in the Garden State between 2010 and 2015 dropped about 3 percent. But in Ocean County, considered the epicenter for the epidemic in the state, the number of prescriptions written during that period dropped by 18 percent.
“That’s a drop we’re definitely very happy to see,” said Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office.
He noted the trend is positive but “we need that drop to continue, we need the people to educate themselves with regard to the danger of opioid addition.”
He also stressed the opioid epidemic won’t be solved by law enforcement efforts alone.
“We need to see that our healthcare providers join with law enforcement in getting the message out that it’s a real danger to people and it’s a real driving factor in terms of deaths that we see,” said Della Fave.
He stressed to decrease the number of opioid prescriptions being written, authorities have worked “with healthcare providers in the area, stressing the need to lower the prescription rate, to monitor it closely, to track those individuals who are receiving prescription meds, and how often they get them.”
He added as the number of prescriptions goes down, authorities will be watching to see how this translates to the opioid overdose death rate.
“We always stated it’s going to take multiple years of statistics to see if we’re really having a positive impact,” he said.
Della Fave stressed we know there is a correlation between younger people who have suffered sports injuries and get an opioid painkiller prescription, and the number of people who turn to and become hooked on heroin after their prescriptions run out.
“This means we need to see the close monitoring and the close oversight in terms of prescription meds,” he said.
He said on Aug. 1, Ocean County is having a major prescription pill “take back day” when residents will be asked to bring unused painkiller medications to drop off zones so they can be disposed of properly.
He says another part of the puzzle is to increase awareness about alternate painkiller drugs that can be prescribed that are not habit forming.
“Everything needs to be pursued in terms of making a real impact with regard to the opioid crisis.”
Angelo Valente, executive director of the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey, said having fewer opioid prescriptions being written is certainly positive.
“There’s no question it’s a good sign, but we still have a long way to go when we have numbers as high as they are,” he said.
Valente says the multi-faceted model of addressing the epidemic we’ve seen in Ocean County needs to be replicated in other parts of the Garden State.
“We need to be able to bring together all of the stakeholders in those communities. We need to be looking at alternatives to opioids.”
While the overall number of opioid prescriptions written in New Jersey has dipped, Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland and Gloucester counties continue to see higher numbers of prescriptions being written for painkiller medications.
It is not clear what’s driving that trend, but the CDC indicates areas where there are a higher percentage of uninsured and unemployed people tend to have higher rates of opioid prescriptions being issued.
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You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com