NJ To Allow Cannabis for Rising Opioid Abuse

February 6, 2019
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By Chris Rotolo | crotolo@tworivertimes.com

One week after New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy unveiled a series of initiatives he hopes will stem the troubling tide of the opioid epidemic, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office (MCPO) offered a snapshot of a deadly 2018.

Updated totals published Jan. 30 by the Prosecutor’s Office revealed that in 2018 there were 215 recorded drug-related overdose deaths in the county, of which 183 deaths were related to heroin opiates – making last year the deadliest on record since the organization began tracking these incidences in 2012.

These totals are a significant increase over the previous highs, recorded in 2016, of 164 drug-related overdose deaths, 150 of which were related to heroin opiates.

“The opioid epidemic continues to devastate families and communities across our state,” Murphy said in a media release. “As we combat this crisis, it is critical that we use data-driven, evidence-based strategies to support individuals suffering from addiction and help them get on the path to recovery.”

Courtesy: Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office

One of the Murphy administration’s efforts includes the addition of opioid addiction to the list of medical conditions covered by New Jersey’s expanding Medical Marijuana Program.

In July Murphy announced that New Jersey’s Medical Marijuana Program had grown by 10,000 patients since his administration took office at the start of 2018.

The dramatic increase was due to the six new additions to the program’s medical conditions list, including anxiety, migraines, Tourette’s syndrome, chronic pain related to musculoskeletal disorders and chronic visceral pain.

Additionally, Murphy announced four strategies for combatting the epidemic:

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• Increasing access to evidence-based prevention and treatment programs

• Supporting individuals on their path to and maintenance of recovery

• Building sound data systems and strengthening system-wide infrastructure for the addicted population

• Delivering robust law enforcement to stem the supply of illicit drugs, while also supporting diversion programs

To help advance these initiatives, Murphy said Medicaid will remove the requirement for prior authorization for Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), which so often serves as an administrative barrier to life-saving treatment.

Medicaid is also planning to launch a series of efforts to advance accessibility to MAT, including initiating the Office Based Addiction Treatment (OBAT) program, which will create new Medicaid reimbursement incentives for primary care providers to offer MAT for opioid addiction.

Further, Medicaid will be building “Centers of Excellence” for opioid treatment at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and Cooper Medical School of Rowan University. According to Carole Johnson, State Human Services commissioner, these centers will be used to support community-based clinicians in providing opioid addiction treatment.

These efforts are part of a developing plan to battle the opioid epidemic and Murphy has already advanced $100 million from his 2019 budget to put toward the fight.

Newly elected Monmouth County Freeholder Susan M. Kiley said treating opioid addiction with marijuana is something she opposes.

“To me, that’s like treating an addiction to vodka with one beer a day,” Kiley said in a Jan. 29 interview with The Two River Times.

Kiley said she disagrees with the commonly accepted sentiment that marijuana is not an addictive substance and, though it may not contain addictive properties, the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that marijuana use can lead to the development of use disorder.

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Use disorder is linked to dependence, in which a user may feel symptoms of withdrawal when coming of f a particular substance.

Kiley, the Freeholder Board’s liaison to the County Health and Human Services Department, said she believes addiction is not always contingent on the product, but a user’s personality.

“Addiction is addiction. If you have an addictive personality it doesn’t really matter what the substance or activity is. Treating opioid addiction with marijuana might save a life, but I believe the individual will continue to be addicted. And if that marijuana high isn’t enough, they’ll eventually go back to opioids,” Kiley added.

Kiley said she believes overprescribing is a catalyst for the opioid crisis and hopes increased regulating efforts will be made.

“I’m angry about it because I believe a huge percentage of those suffering in this opioid crisis started because they went to see a physician,” Kiley said. “They go in to be treated for an illness or an injur y and get overprescribed. We’re talking about young kids all the way up to seniors. It has to stop, and stronger regulations and better tracking of prescriptions is a way to start.”

This article was first published in the Feb.7-14, 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.

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