Christie: How these new opioid initiatives will save lives

Thursday, 12 October 2017, 04:36:33 PM. Gov. Chris Christie Tuesday announced a state task force's recommendations to contain the heroin and opioid epidemic.

TRENTON -- Narcan has reversed more than 25,000 heroin and other opioid drug overdoses in New Jersey since 2014. But the nasal spray has a weak track record saving the lives of people who ingest Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times stronger than heroin.

The Health Department will change a rule so emergency medical technicians will be immediately permitted to administer twice as much of the powerful opioid antidote to overcome a fentanyl overdose, which is blamed for a skyrocketing number of deaths.

It's a change first responders requested when they were surveyed by the Governor's Task Force on Drug Abuse Control, said Gov. Chris Christie, announcing the group's 40 recommendations during a press conference outside his office Tuesday.

Gov. Christie declares opioid drug abuse a public health crisis

"First responders have found that four milligrams may be needed to counteract the deadly effects of fentanyl, which is becoming a major factor in an opioid crisis that is killing as many people as 9/11 every three weeks in America," Christie said. "This will help EMT's save more lives and help people suffering from addiction take their first step toward treatment and recovery."

Christie said the recommendations of the task force, led by Charlie McKenna, executive director of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority, call for policy changes and new and expanded programs that can be accomplished before the governor's term ends in mid-January.

Christie acknowledged his year-long campaign to address the opioid addiction epidemic would be helped if President Trump followed through on his promise from August to declare the problem a "national emergency."

"The problem is too big to say that if he declared an emergency two months ago, it would have made a significant difference. But you can't get those two months back," Christie said, answering a reporter's question about Trump. "I would have loved to have had the time."

Some of the recommendations have already been unveiled by the governor, who recently announced a $200 million plan to expand his anti-opioid agenda. 

The task force's recommendations include:

    • Hospitals committing to writing fewer opioid prescriptions. St. Joseph's Hospital, Paterson reduced its prescriptions by 57 percent over two years;
    • Giving the state Office of the Medical Examiner the authority to set guidelines on how overdose data are reported by county medical examiners, which operate independently. "We...have walked away from this examination concerned about Medical Examiner's office," Christie said "We can't get accurate data - each office has different standards."
    • Expanding to all 21 counties the "recovery coach" program, which places people who quit drugs in the emergency rooms to meet with people after they have been revived from an overdose. 

Susan K. Livio may be reached at slivio@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.

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