Bipartisan bill crafted to fight the opioid epidemic heads to president’s desk

BY Raven Santana, Correspondent |

Health care professionals at Monmouth Medical Center did not hold back when describing their experiences dealing with the state’s opioid epidemic.

“We’re seeing an increase with pregnant people coming in, pregnant mothers coming. And I have to tell you that it really is eye-opening and now we’re are dealing with a pregnant person in withdrawal and that brings a whole different dimension and can it be any one of our families,” said Deborah Cioffi, administrative director of emergency services at Monmouth Medical Center.

They were in Long Branch Thursday as Congressman Frank Pallone was highlighting the Support for Patients and Communities Act, a bipartisan bill passed in both the House and Senate that will expand access to treatment for substance abuse patients.

According to the CDC, there were 1,409 opioid-related deaths in New Jersey in 2016 — a rate of 16 deaths per 100,000 persons, compared to national rate of about 13 deaths per 100,000 persons.

In another report the same year, Ocean and Monmouth Counties had the second and third highest numbers of substance abuse treatment admissions for opiates other than heroin.

Pallone says senior citizens are one of the fastest growing populations that are being treated for substance abuse and overdoses.

“Seniors are more dependent on prescription drugs and take more prescription drugs than any other group. In fact, the majority of prescription drugs that are sold are for people over 65,” Pallone said. “In New Jersey Medicare does cover treatment for people over 65, but that’s not true in a lot of states. So this bill says that Medicare will cover treatment, which means most people over 65 get their health insurance through Medicare.”

The bill also creates a grant program to provide funding for mental health and substance abuse disorder services to prevent further overdoses.

“We’re seeing as young as 10 years old overdosing so that’s really scary. So we want to get out into the community, we want to see what environments they’re in, what are their risk factors,” Cioffi said.

Pallone says part of the problem is the state’s inability to control illegal drugs being smuggled in, which is why Pallone wrote a provision known as the Screen Act.

“Until now, until this bill is signed, you can be caught once sending something from China and all they do is slap you on the wrist and you can keep doing it. So this says no, this particular company, this particular individual or group can no longer use the mail facilities,” Pallone said.

The bill also expands funding for hospitals like Monmouth Medical Center to provide inpatient treatment services. Pallone says the bill is now sitting on President Donald Trump’s desk waiting to be passed.