Christie plan to limit painkillers 'cruel,' N.J. doctors say

TRENTON -- New Jersey's largest lobbying group for physicians opposes Gov. Chris Christie's plan to prevent doctors in New Jersey from writing initial prescriptions for opioid painkillers to a five-day supply, calling it an "intrusion" on the practice of medicine and possibly "cruel" to patients.

The Medical Society released a statement Wednesday responding to the Republican governor's State of the State address, in which he outlined his plans to combat the "crisis" of opioid and heroin addiction in the state.

"Nearly 1,600 people lost their lives to drugs in New Jersey in 2015. That is more than four times the number of murders in New Jersey in 2015," Christie said in his speech. "That is three times the number of people that were killed in car accidents in 2015."

One of Christie's most aggressive proposals called for adopting rules that limit an initial supply of the potentially addictive painkillers to five days, rather than the standard 30-day supply.

The 30-day prescription, Christie said, "is dangerous, ill-advised and absolutely unnecessary. We know addiction to opioids can occur within days. We must work against potential addiction -- and overdose -- by limiting supply to five days that can be obtained at the outset of treatment."

"Prescribers would be required to consult the patient, assess their need and only then provide further authorization for additional quantities," according to the governor's speech.

Mishael Azam, chief operating officer and senior manager for Legislative Affairs for the Medical Society of New Jersey, a physician lobbying group, released a statement Wednesday that criticized the one-size-fits-all approach to the problem.

"Unfortunately, statutory medication limits decrease the quality of care and life for pain patients. The Medical Society of New Jersey opposes such intrusions into the practice of medicine, especially if they do not take into account individual patient circumstances, like medication tolerance or access to insurance, transportation or alternative treatments," Azam's statement said.

"This is especially cruel given that over 70 percent of abuse comes from diversion not from patient misuse," Azam's statement said, citing a statistic from an N.J. Board of Medical Examiners report.

Educating patients on the secure storage and proper disposal of unused medication would address the problem of abuse "much more efficiently than pill limits," her statement said.

Azam said the medical society will request to meet with the administration to explain its position and seek common ground.

She predicted that new rules would make doctors reticent to prescribe opioid painkillers when that is what a patient needs. "This is a legal medication," she said. "The people who need it and use it legitimately -- it is not fair to cut them off." 

Christie does not need to consult the state Legislature or anybody to make the change.

State Attorney General Christopher Porrino told NJ Advance Media his office would likely be submitting new rules based on the governor's recommendation to state regulators by the end of the month.

The attorney general said his office has the power to submit emergency regulations limiting opioid prescriptions to five-day supplies to the state Office of Administrative Law, which could be enacted after a 30-day review period.

"This allows us to take action very quickly," Porrino said.

Christie also called on the Attorney General's Office to consider opening "an investigation of the prescribing practices of our medical community and their interaction with the industry manufacturing these drugs."

The Medical Society's also challenged Christie's rationale for the change by quoting the governor's former attorney general, Jeffrey Chiesa, who once said, "high levels of prescribing and dispensing of controlled drugs are not necessarily indicators of illegal activity or drug abuse."

"While working to stop abuse, we must remain mindful of the legitimate uses of medication and ensure practitioners are empowered to meet their patient's health care needs," according to Chiesa's statement cited by Azam.

The governor's press office did not respond to a request for comment.

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