Source: NJ Spotlight -
A rising tide of deaths from heroin and prescription-drug overdoses has prompted legislators to introduce a wide-ranging package of bills designed to revamp the way the state treats and tries to prevent drug addiction and abuse.
The widespread sense that heroin and prescription opioid addiction is spiraling out of control in all corners of New Jersey has attracted the attention of legislative leaders from both parties.
In addition, Gov, Chris Christie has already worked with the Legislature on related bills, including legislation expanding access to drug courts for nonviolent offenders and the Overdose Protection Act, which provides legal immunity to people who report overdoses and allows the administration of the heroin antidote naloxone.
Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini (R-Monmouth), the CEO of behavioral health provider Prevention First, cited statistics that for every $1 spent on evidence-based prevention efforts, there is a long-term savings of $15 in costs to society, while a similar ratio exists for drug treatment, with $10 in savings for every $1 spent.
“This is an investment that our children — our communities — deserve,” Angelini said.
The 21-bill package includes proposals to require health-insurance plans to cover behavioral healthcare services when a healthcare provider deems it medically necessary; to increase Medicaid reimbursements for some behavioral healthcare; and to require doctors and other prescribers to participate in the state program monitoring opioid prescriptions.
Several of the bills have drawn sponsors from both parties. Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vitale (D-Middlesex), who has focused on the opioids issue over the past 18 months, said the Christie administration has expressed interest in the proposals.
But some healthcare providers have said the legislation’s goals can be achieved without adding more mandates.
In addition, at a time of persistent state budget shortfalls, the cost is expected to be “tens of millions” of dollars, Vitale said. That means fiscal realities would make it difficult to implement some of the legislation before the next budget year begins in July 2015.
Patty DiRenzo, a Blackwood resident whose 26-year-old son Salvatore died of an overdose in 2010, said expanded insurance coverage is a necessary step. She said her son was repeatedly turned away from treatment because his insurance wouldn’t cover it.
“New Jersey is facing an epidemic and we are losing a generation of children to this disease,” DiRenzo said.