What is Behind the Surge in Heroin Overdoses?


Heroin overdoses are on the rise across the country, and New Jersey is not  immune.

According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heroin use has increased across the US among men and women, most age groups, and all income  levels.

The report found that the strongest risk factor for heroin use is prescription opioid abuse and that the greatest increases in heroin abuse have occurred in groups with historically lower rates of heroin use, including women, people with private insurance and higher  incomes.

“Heroin use is increasing at an alarming rate in many parts of society, driven by both the prescription opioid epidemic and cheaper, more available heroin,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. According to the CDC, opioid pain relievers that are abusedwere most often obtained via prescription from  physicians.

In New Jersey, the CDC reports that 62 prescriptions for prescription pain killers were written per 100 residents in 2014, which equates to approximately 5.4 million  prescriptions.

“These findings underscore the need for patients to be notified by their physician of the potential for dependency on these opioid based drugs,” said Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey (PDFNJ) Co-Chair, Elaine  Pozycki.

Senate Bill 2366, one of the measures in the 21 bill package introduced by Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vitale to tackle the heroin and prescription drug epidemic that is occurring across the state, requires practitioners to have a conversation with their patient about the risks of developing a physical or psychological dependence before prescribing. The measure passed the Senate in December 2014 with a vote of 36-1 and is now waiting to be introduced in the  Assembly.

Pozycki continued, “Senate Bill 2366, calls for physicians to have these conversations about the potential for dependency. Unfortunately, this simple, potentially lifesaving measure has not taken effect in New Jersey because the Assembly Health Committee has yet to introduce it for a vote. Based on last year’s numbers, over 2.75 million prescriptions for highly addictive opioids were potentially prescribed in our state – to our children, friends, and family members, without the benefit of any information of their addictive qualities or their link to heroin abuse  rates.

“The rise in the use and abuse of prescription drugs and heroin has reached epidemic proportions in New Jersey, spreading the dangerous disease of addiction and taking the lives of its victims. We must support and improve access to prevention, treatment, education and recovery efforts for parents and families from the very first point of contact, often times with a physician, so we can reverse the rapid trend of opiate-related addiction and deaths plaguing our state. We have a shared responsibility to take action and to protect our youth from succumbing to this disease,” said Senator Joseph Vitale,  D-Middle sex.

“To reverse this trend we need an all-of-society response – to improve opioid prescribing practices to prevent addiction, expand access to effective treatment for those who are addicted, increase use of naloxone to reverse overdoses, and work with law enforcement partners like DEA to reduce the supply of heroin,” said  Frieden.

PDFNJ has focused on educating parents, physicians, and community leaders about the dangers of prescription pain medicine and the link between prescribed opiates and heroin abuse rates, according to PDFNJ Executive Director, Angelo M. Valente. He noted that a March 2015 PDFNJ/ Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind study of New Jersey residents found that the majority want the legislature to mandate that their doctor tell them if their prescription medicine is addictive and believe those conversations will reduce the number of individuals who become addicted to pain  medications.

“The majority (78%) strongly agree that physicians should be legally required to discuss the risk of developing either a physical or psychological dependency on the prescription pain medication with patients prior to prescribing it,” explained  Valente.

Valente noted that since 2009, PDFNJ has, through its American Medicine Chest Challenge initiative, provided information to families on how to safeguard their home by talking to their children, taking medicine only as prescribed, and properly disposing of any unused, unwanted and expired  medicine.

“Education is the key factor in preventing the abuse of opiates,” concluded  Pozycki.

SOURCE Partnership for a Drug-Free New  Jersey

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