Opioid laws NJ: Phil Murphy signs bills to fight epidemic

2022-04-02 03:55:05 By : Ms. Jodie Liu

Bills targeting the opioid epidemic were among a slew of measures signed by Gov. Phil Murphy before his inauguration Tuesday. 

The three bills cover expanding the distribution of sterile syringes and providing support for intravenous drug users; repealing the offense of possession of a syringe and expunging charges of possession or distribution of hypodermic syringes or needles in cases of previous expungement; and creating local drug overdose fatality review teams.

Murphy said his administration has worked to prioritize "a comprehensive, data-driven approach to ending New Jersey's opioid epidemic."

The syringe access bill will expand upon a law enacted 15 years ago. The original bill allowed only seven centers within New Jersey to offer comprehensive harm reduction services.

The New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition and the South Jersey AIDS Alliance applauded Murphy's expansion of syringe access.

Jenna Mellor, executive director of the New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition, called it a "game-changer." Mellor said harm reduction is one of the best ways to end the overdose crisis.

"This legislation is lifesaving," Mellor said. "Every resident who uses drugs deserves the very best care and support possible, and this legislation will make that a reality."

According to the New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition, New Jersey was the last state in the country to have a legal pathway to access to sterile syringes.

Carol Harney, the CEO of the South Jersey AIDS Alliance, said the syringe access bill will help vulnerable residents who are "all too often overlooked by policymakers."

"By expanding syringe access and protecting health services for people living with a substance abuse disorder and who are living with or at risk of HIV, New Jersey lawmakers are saving lives," Harney said.

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In 2012, the state allowed people to buy syringes, but it was still illegal to be in possession of one. Decriminalizing the possession of syringes could expand access to syringe programs. The sponsors of the bill, Assembly members Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Raj Mukherji and Angela McKnight, said it allows "a second chance at a successful and prosperous new life" for New Jerseyans who need help.

The establishment of local overdose fatality review teams will help with gathering insight into circumstances around fatal overdoses and provide opportunities for intervention with the hope of preventing future fatalities.

"From every tragic overdose, we can learn valuable lessons that can help avert similar deaths in the future," said Sen. Robert Singer, who was one of several sponsors.

There were 3,081 suspected drug-related deaths in 2021, Murphy's office said in a press release. The state began tracking drug-related deaths in 2012 and that year saw 1,223 deaths.

Murphy has sought to broaden efforts begun by Gov. Chris Christie by expanding the distribution of naloxone, an opioid reversal drug, making more treatment options available, streamlining services for those struggling with addiction to get counseling and employment opportunities, and chasing lawsuits and investigations leading to settlements to fund opioid programs.

While the numbers remain high in New Jersey, between April 2020 and April 2021, the state reported 2.7% fewer deaths than the year before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Delaware, New Hampshire and South Dakota, which have a combined population of about a third of New Jersey's, were the only other states to see declines.

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Nationwide, drug overdose deaths increased by 27%, according to provisional data.

Syringe access programs are linked to decreased fatal overdoses, higher chances of people entering drug treatment programs and higher chances at stopping drug use, and people with access to syringes are less likely to get HIV and hepatitis C, according to the CDC.

"These bills, coupled with the creation of local drug overdose fatality review teams, will strengthen our ability to save lives and further our commitment to ending the opioid crisis in New Jersey," Murphy said.

Staff Writer Dustin Racioppi contributed to this article.

Kaitlyn Kanzler covers Essex County for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.