By: Carly Truett, Writer / Follow South Jersey Public Health Intern
MILLBURN, N.J. — New Jersey was the first state to implement a law requiring medical practitioners to discuss opioids’ potential for dependency and addiction when prescribing them to patients. Now, a related legislative initiative is expected to be brought before the United States House of Representatives to help the fight against the nationwide opioid crisis.
The New Jersey legislation, called the Patient Notification Act, went into effect in 2017. It requires doctors, dentists, and other medical professionals to discuss the potential for dependency of opioids with patients and parents of patients under the age of 18. The legislation also mandates that non-opioid treatment options are discussed, and that a note of these conversations is included in the patient’s medical record.
A study commissioned by the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey and performed by researchers at Brandeis University found promising results of the legislation. Nearly 5,000 fewer patients in the state were prescribed opioids in the first month following the enactment of the law. The number of practitioners who prescribed opioids for acute pain – described in the legislation as pain expected to last a short period of time, and excluding pain being treated as part of cancer, hospice, or palliative care – decreased by 1,000. Before the law was enacted, only 18% of practitioners participating in the study routinely warned patients about the potential for addiction when prescribing opioids. That proportion is now at 95%.
Since its enactment in New Jersey, 16 other states have implemented similar legislation. These laws and their related legislative initiative expected to be brought to the national level by Representative David Trone (D-MD) are attempts to curtail the over-prescription, overuse, and dependence on opioids in the United States. While prescribing rates of opioids have been decreasing since 2012, they still are nearly three times higher than in the year 1999, and in 2017, there were almost 58 opioid prescriptions written for every 100 Americans, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Exposing so many people in the US to opioids, especially without requiring discussion on their potential for abuse and dependence, can have grave consequences. Negative impacts up to overdose and death can occur from misuse of prescription opioids. An estimated 2 million Americans misused prescription pain relievers for the first time in one year, according to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Many heroin users report first using prescription opioids. In 2018, 67,367 overdose deaths occurred in the US, and opioids were involved in nearly 70% of them.
Experts worry that the opioid crisis is being made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, reports that both fatal and nonfatal overdoses have increased during the pandemic. Pandemic-related stress, social isolation, and decreased access to recovery services have all led to increases in relapses in prior opioid users, according to Dr. Volkow.
Rep. Trone hopes to address the COVID-19-related impacts and the opioid crisis in general by introducing legislation based on New Jersey’s Patient Notification Act.
“In Congress, I’m working to attack the opioid epidemic from every angle, including through prevention, and will work to ensure that everyone who receives a new prescription for an opioid understands the potential outcomes,” Trone said in a press release. “This is a simple, but extremely effective step that we know saves lives.”
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This article was produced by a Follow South Jersey news intern thanks to a grant provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the New Jersey Health Initiatives program to create hyper-local news to meet the informational and health needs of the City of Bridgeton, N.J.