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State legislators focused on opioid addiction treatment and prevention in schools and prisons Thursday while reviewing bills that would both use medications to thwart overdoses and assist in recovery. A bill making its way through the Legislature would require all schools with grades 9 to 12 to have policies for training nurses on how to administer naloxone. The schools would also have to keep a supply of the medication ready. “The harsh reality is that opioids are killing thousands of people in this country, many of them young people,” Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, bill sponsor, said in a statement. “Narcan has been proven to save lives. Having it readily available in schools can help ensure that our schools are ready to respond in every emergency situation.” Several South Jersey schools, including Millville, Mainland Regional High School, the Egg Harbor Township School District and the Ocean City School District, already have such policies in place. As of 2017, New Jersey ranked eighth in the nation for drug overdose deaths among people ages 12 to 25, according to the national nonprofit Trust for America’s Health. There have been an estimated 654 overdose deaths in New Jersey since Jan. 1, according to the Department of the Attorney General.

The bill would require that nurses be taught how to use the anti-opioid drug and have a prescription standing order for naloxone to keep it in supply. There were more than 14,300 uses of naloxone in the state last year, state data shows. If passed, the law would also provide immunity from liability for school nurses and other employees when an opioid reversal is performed. Nearby, members of the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee reviewed a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, that would require state correctional facilities to offer inmates naltrexone and naloxone just before their release. Naltrexone, known by its brand name Vivitrol, is a type of nonopioid medication- assisted treatment (MAT) for a substance-use disorder. Studies have shown medication-assisted treatments like naltrexone, methadone and buprenorphine have successfully been used to reduce relapse rates and help people maintain recovery from opioid addiction. Vivitrol completely blocks the euphoric and sedative effects of opioids. Recipients often need a monthly shot of the medication administered by a medical professional.

At John Brooks Recovery Centers in Atlantic City and Pleasantville, Vivitrol is just one medication-assisted treatment offered to inpatient and outpatient patients, but it is coupled with counseling and other treatment education. Alan Oberman, CEO of John Brooks Recovery Center, said that while the bill looks well intentioned, giving one shot of Vivitrol, which costs about $1,000, to an outgoing inmate without follow-up or counseling only buys that person about three or four weeks of sobriety before they may use again. “It’s more than just giving an injection, which at least requires a nurse to do it, and many outpatient programs in the community don’t have medical staff there to do it regularly,” he said. While methadone and buprenorphine are MATs that have been on the market for some time, Vivitrol is relatively new. John Brooks and the Atlantic County jail teamed up last summer to create the state’s first mobile methadone program for inmates. Oberman said they now offer inmates Vivitrol, but they haven’t yet had any takers.

The harsh reality is that opioids are killing thousands of people in this country, many of them young people

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