Trenton – In response to the state’s deadly opioid epidemic, yesterday the Senate passed five bills which would increase access to opioid antidotes and provide support for those struggling with addiction.
“Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, with opioids being the most common drug, causing approximately 70 percent of all drug overdose deaths,” said Senator Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex). “Many of these deaths could have been avoided with increased access to opioid antidotes; however, only a limited amount of individuals are authorized to administer these antidotes. Additionally, those struggling with addiction currently lack the support needed to overcome addiction. It is evident that the opioid epidemic is a staggering problem and it is crucial that we utilize a multi-faceted approach to decrease the death rate as much as we possibly can.”
The first bill, S-3491, sponsored by Senators Vitale and Joseph Lagana, would revise the requirements to obtain and administer opioid antidotes in response to a suspected overdose. Specifically, the bill would revise the “Overdose Prevention Act,” to permit any person to obtain, administer, and distribute opioid antidotes to others, regardless of whether the person is acting in a private or professional capacity.
“In 2020 alone, New Jersey had 3,046 suspected opioid overdose deaths,” said Senator Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Evidence shows that when we increase the availability of opioid antidotes, the rate of overdose-related deaths diminishes greatly. By revising the current requirements laid out under the ‘Overdose Prevention Act’, we can train and equip more individuals with opioid antidotes, having the potential to save thousands of more lives.”
A second bill, S-3493, sponsored by Senator Vitale, would permit the expungement of a possession or distribution of a hypodermic syringe or needle offense.
Under current law, expungement is prohibited when the person has had a previous criminal conviction expunged, but certain exceptions exist including when the person is seeking the expungement of a municipal ordinance violation or the expungement of records for an arrest not resulting in conviction. This bill would add possession or distribution of hypodermic syringes or needles to the list of exceptions and decriminalize possession or distribution of hypodermic syringes or needles.
A third bill, S-3800, sponsored by Senator Dawn Addiego, would require health benefits carriers and State programs to provide coverage for opioid antidotes, including naloxone, without imposing prior authorization requirements.
Specifically, the bill would be for opioid antidotes that are either prescribed or administered to individuals by authorized licensed medical practitioners or licensed pharmacists, under a standing order to allow pharmacists to dispense opioid antidotes to any person without an individual prescription.
“Naloxone is an inexpensive drug that is crucial in treating an opioid overdose in the event of an emergency,” said Senator Addiego (D-Atlantic/Burlington/Camden). “When properly administered, the drug has been proven to significantly decrease the likelihood of death following an overdose, saving countless lives to date. It is imperative that we ensure that our residents have access to this life-saving medication.”
A fourth bill, S-3803, sponsored by Senator Vitale, would permit paramedics to administer buprenorphine.
Under the bill, paramedics may administer the drug to an individual following the emergent administration of an opioid antidote to the individual provided that the paramedic is:
- providing emergency medical services through a program registered with the United States Attorney General;
- administering the drug consistent with requirements under federal law; and
- has completed comprehensive training and competency assessments regarding which specific medical conditions necessitate the administration of buprenorphine, including, dosage requirements and the required medical documentation following its administration.
“Buprenorphine is a medication used to treat opioid use disorder and is especially useful in treating withdrawal symptoms after a patient has been revived from an opioid overdose with naloxone,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “While naloxone is critical in preventing deaths due to opioid overdose, patients who receive the drug often experience intense withdrawal symptoms, which could encourage them to consume the drug more. Buprenorphine is essential for not only assisting those experiencing withdrawal, but also stabilizing patients in recovery by curbing opioid cravings.”
The final bill, S-3867, sponsored by Senators Addiego and Troy Singleton, would dedicate all current and future Opioid Settlement dollars solely to addiction services. The bill would require that any money that has already been received and any additional opioid settlement monies be placed in a New Jersey State Treasury ‘Opioid Recovery and Remediation Fund.’ This fund would be dedicated solely to supplementing substance use disorder prevention and treatment programs and services in the State.
“The number of suspected fatal overdoses from opioids statewide rose from just over 1,200 in 2011 to over 3,000 in 2020,” said Senator Singleton (D-Burlington). “That’s a staggering 40% increase over the last decade. This legislation would ensure that the opioid settlement funds are being used to help those most impacted by the opioid crisis, and would dedicate the money specifically for addiction services and prevention programs.”
The bills were approved by the Senate by votes of 36-3, 25-10, 38-0, 39-0, and 40-0.