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New Jersey’s heroin crisis worsens


New Jersey’s heroin crisis worsens

Flimsy regulation, outdated drug education, irresponsible prescribing practices and myriad barriers to treatment have enabled and exacerbated a growing crisis of heroin and opiate addiction among New Jersey youth, according to an ambitious — and long-delayed — state task force report released Tuesday.

The 88-page report, the result of two years of research, public hearings and official review, offers a wide range of policy recommendations, from public awareness campaigns and strengthened oversight of doctors to insurance reform and expanded treatment programs. It also firmly places New Jersey among a group of northeastern states, from Pennsylvania to Maine, grappling with an alarming surge of heroin addiction.

“The skyrocketing use of heroin and other opiates has become the number one health care crisis confronting New Jersey,” the report says. And the numbers are stark: Nearly two-thirds of the state’s 1,294 drug-related deaths in 2012 involved opiates, including heroin. In 2012, there were more than 8,300 admissions to state-certified substance abuse treatment programs for prescription drug abuse — an increase of nearly 700 percent over the past decade.

The Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse received the report Tuesday and posted it on the council website later in the day. But despite enthusiasm among lawmakers and officials, it remains to be seen whether the proposed reforms will gain traction.

The report and its 18 recommendations do not differ substantively from a confidential October draft of the report obtained and written about by The Record in December: at the time, the council and Governor Christie’s office exchanged blame for its delayed release.

New Jersey’s task force report appears to be the first of its kind and scope, but other states across the Northeast have raised alarms about the rise in heroin addiction. (O’Brien/The Record)