By Jack Baldwin
If you have been keeping up with the news, you probably know that Gov. Chris Christie signed an executive order on Jan. 17 that declares New Jersey’s opioid epidemic a public health crisis. This is a serious issue facing our state, as staggering statistics have shown.
According to NJ.com, almost 1,600 people in New Jersey died of drug overdoses in 2015; a 22 percent increase from the previous year. As it currently stands, the Garden State’s death rate by heroin overdose is about 2.5 times the already rising U.S. average, and NJ.com estimates that 128,000 citizens of the state are addicted to heroin.
These numbers are sobering, and they place New Jersey at the forefront of the national opioid epidemic. The social stigma of drug addiction has kept us, and the Christie administration, from speaking openly about the deleterious effects of opioids in our communities for too long.
Since Christie was elected to office, heroin and morphine-induced deaths have risen exponentially. According to NJ.com, from 2010 to 2015, New Jersey’s Office of Attorney General reported a 214 percent increase in opioid-related deaths, but the governor waited until Jan. 17 — 366 days before he leaves office — to take action.
The writing has been on the wall for years. Thousands of people have lost their lives to opioid abuse, and those individuals left behind their grieving families and fractured communities.
As New Jersey residents, we need to take a stand against the idleness of indifferent politicians and take action toward electing individuals who have always represented our interests and values as concerned voters.
Phil Murphy is such a leader, which is why I’m the political organizing director for the TCNJ for Phil Murphy campaign. For these aforementioned reasons, I believe he is the best choice for governor of New Jersey.
Concerning the opioid epidemic, Murphy has already produced a six-point action plan to take on this crisis.
Murphy promises to first expand access to drug treatment facilities in New Jersey by pooling state, federal and private-sector resources to extend treatment to those who need it before it is too late.
There are too few drug treatment beds to meet present needs, and far too often, people only receive treatment after being arrested for committing a crime related to their addiction.
Murphy also wants to increase access to preventative medical treatment, in which health insurers are required to cover Medication-Assisted Treatment: a holistic, multi-faceted approach to recovery that includes medication, counseling and support from family and friends to meet the individual’s needs.
Step three: Murphy will establish a seven day limit on initial opiate prescriptions. Since doctors will be required to limit the amount of painkillers prescribed, the chances of dependence or overdosing are reduced.
He then wants to lower the cost of Narcan: a drug that reverses the effect of an opioid overdose. This exceptionally effective drug is underutilized due to its high cost, and Murphy has promised to help provide it at a discounted rate.
Murphy’s next step is for New Jersey to fund a public awareness campaign about opioid addiction prevention. We need to educate New Jersey residents about the real consequences of opioid abuse. Only through an informed public can we begin to take the necessary strides to battle an epidemic of this proportion.
Finally, individuals who overdose and receive Narcan will immediately be treated for their underlying addiction. Murphy will work with local partners and recovery specialists to offer and expand support structures for people when they need it the most.
The New Jersey opioid epidemic has claimed the lives of too many already. As Murphy likes to say, “Voting is necessary, but not sufficient.” We need to be active and informed citizens in order to fight the widespread mechanisms of opioid addiction, and that battle begins now.
Murphy’s message is powerful because he believes in New Jersey and knows that we will overcome this epidemic together. I trust Murphy, a governor who has our back.