New Jersey should expand prescription monitoring rules and make it easier for people to have drug treatment covered by insurance under recommendations released Tuesday by a state panel aimed at combatting what it called a "skyrocketing" problem of heroin and prescription drug addiction in the state.
The report by a task force of the Governor's Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse grew out of public hearings in which parents and teens affected by substance abuse told their stories, as well as interviews with researchers, academics, law enforcement officials, doctors and treatment providers.
The report said a stark indicator of the prescription drug problem in New Jersey is that admissions to licensed or certified substance abuse programs due to prescription drug abuse have increased seven-fold over the last decade. Addiction to prescription drugs often leads to heroin addiction since heroin is cheaper and easier to get.
"This is hardly the traditional path to heroin abuse, and that is one of the things that make the present situation so troubling," task force chairman Frank L. Greenagel Jr. wrote. "Because readily-available prescription pills have become a gateway drug, heroin is finding its way into the world of people who never imagined that they would ever confront this terrible substance."
Among the recommendations:
—Review insurance practices that "create barriers" to mental health and substance abuse treatment;
—Make it easier to build treatment centers in communities where they're needed;
—Expand mental health and substance abuse programs in county jails;
—Create a public awareness campaign involving pharmaceutical companies and the health insurance industry;
—Set up "recovery high schools" similar to those that exist in other states;
—Amend New Jersey's Prescription Monitoring Program to "require pharmacies to provide real-time prescription information, as the prescription is filled or at least within twenty-four hours" and share PMP information with other states;
—Study shifting to electronic prescriptions.