When Rx drugs turn into candy, NJ's health experts worry


Jeff FrankelOct 10, 2014, 5:39 pm

When Rx drugs turn into candy, NJ's health experts worry

'Opiate epidemic' has killed many, says executive director of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey


Doctors wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that’s enough for every adult in the county to have their own bottle.

Forty-six people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers in the United States. Often times, according to public health care advocates, reliance on prescriptions turn into heroin dependencies.

“The opiate epidemic has unfortunately taken away so many people, said Angelo Valente, the Executive Director for the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey. “It begins with experimentation with prescription drugs.

And it’s reached the point where the number of people who die from prescription drugs is more than the number of those who die from heroin and cocaine combined, Valente said.

It’s gotten to the point where Gov. Chris Christie has made drug abuse prevention and rehabilitation a hallmark of his administration.

Now, according to a study by a Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey and a FDU Public Mind Poll, a strong majority of parents in the state say they want more information when their child is prescribed pain medication.

Here’s what else the FDU Public Mind Poll found:

-- More than two-thirds of New Jersey parents would support a law requiring them to be notified if their child’s prescription contained a potentially addictive medication, such as an opiate or amphetamine.

-- Nearly 9 in 10 parents say they would want to be made of alternative medications.

-- Nine in 10 parents reported they would want to be made aware of alternative medications to opiate-based prescriptions.

Valente told FiOS1 News in an interview on Tuesday that the types of information and medical alternatives a doctor advises his or her patients is best left between the healthcare giver and the patient.

On Tuesday, the governor touted a partnership with neighboring states that looks to combat prescription drug abuse by allowing doctors to access data about patients' prescription drug histories.

Direct data-sharing between New Jersey and Delaware began in June, sharing with Connecticut began in May. A partnership with New York is in the works.
The state’s prescription monitoring program collects data on every prescription filled in New Jersey for a host of controlled substances. About 41 percent of eligible prescribers and pharmacists have registered for access.

On Thursday Christie the creation of a taskforce aimed at preventing drug dependence, strengthening services and de-stigmatizing an epidemic he has repeatedly said should be treated as a disease.

The 12-member "Facing Addiction" group, created by executive order, will be led by New Hope Baptist Church Pastor Joe Carter and will include former Democratic Gov. Jim McGreevey, former New York Jets quarterback Ray Lucas, and a handful of the governor's cabinet members.

Christie said the group would assess the state's current efforts and propose new policies.

"As an administration, we've been working hard to change the way we view addiction for the disease that it is and to remove the stigma that's associated with it," Christie told reporters after visiting the Catholic Charities' Project Free substance abuse and mental health treatment center.

CDC data finds that the prescribing of opioids by clinicians has increased threefold in the last 20 years. And in New Jersey, most of the treatment facilities are finding more than 50 percent of patients are there because prescription drug that lead to heroine.

Opiates are a broad term of medication – from Vicodin, Oxycontin and Percoset.

Many doctors are prescribing these drugs for children and teens as many of them suffer sports injuries.

“Because the drugs can be really addictive, a young person may end up with an addiction based on a prescription obtained from a doctor,” he said.

“…We hear this all too often,” Valente added.

Then many young people turn to Heroin.

“Once the supply dries up, if you want to purchase these illicit drugs, the drugs are sold through the black market,” he said.

And it comes cheaply. It can go for as low as $5 to $10 a hit.

“This is not a habit that requires a lot of cash to support,” Valente said. “As it progresses, the individual will need more heroin because the body is craving for it.”

Valente said there are many resources parents can use to look for indications that their child is abusing drugs, citing the website

“There are many signs” to look out for,” he said. “A child may be nodding off at the dining room table, they may be changing friends, missing school, or are disheveled.”

- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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