Christie discusses addiction with health care professionals in Morristown

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

Gov. Chris Christie spoke off the cuff for almost an hour this morning about the opioid epidemic. He compared the stigma of opioid addiction to the stigma of HIV/AIDS thirty years ago.

“HIV/AIDS was connected in large measure to human activity that many people considered to be unacceptable. … And so what happened back then was nobody wanted to talk about it. People were treated as if they had the plague. Nobody wanted to go near them, nobody wanted to touch them. And that stigma attached to that disease caused us to spend less money research treatments. It caused us not to discuss it. It kept it in the dark and because it was in the dark more people were getting it,” Christie said.

Christie was speaking to health care professionals at Morristown Medical Center. Do No Harm is a program of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.

Today’s session was largely devoted to the new law Christie signed limiting first-time prescriptions of opioid painkillers to five days. An expert walked practitioners through the new law.

“You’re going to have to document a lot of things you never did before,” Attorney Andrew Blustein said.

The chair of the partnership lost her 32-year-old son to opioid addiction five years ago after a shoulder operation.

“Steven now really needed opioids. He was buying vicoden, oxycotin, oxycodone and percocets on the streets. When the price reached $25 a pill, he was offered heroin for $3 a hit. Then he started using,” said Elaine Pozycki, chair of Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.

Christie has made this his signature issue. President Trump put him in charge of a national opioid commission.

This evening he was to be the keynote speaker in Boston at an international conference on opioids at Harvard Medical School, but flight delays caused him to cancel according to his office.

In New Jersey he’s made the antidote Narcan available in all 21 counties and launched a recovery coach program in 11 counties.

“Immediately after the reversal by Narcan, the first people they will see in those hospitals in those 11 counties will be recovery coaches, people who are in recovery themselves and who understand what it’s like to be lying on that gurney in that hospital wondering ‘is this the moment where I’m going to take charge of my life, or am I going to go back to what got me here in the first place?’ They don’t need to hear it from somebody like me, and quite frankly they don’t need to hear it from somebody in a white coat. They need to hear from someone who has been where they are,” Christie said.

Christie said his current television ad campaign against opioids is aimed a breaking down the stigma.

Critics question why he has to be in the ads. The answer was on display this morning. He’s become the most visible and passionate crusader against opioid addiction in the nation.