By Erin Delmore
“If you knew that the chemical structure of an opioid is the same as the chemical structure of heroin, you could say to yourself, ‘would I give my child heroin?'” asked Elaine Payzycki co-chair of Partnership for a Drug-Free NJ.
Payzycki lost her son to a heroin overdose in his 30s. He got hooked on prescription painkillers to treat a sports injury a decade earlier.
“He was given oxycontin for pain and with refills for the rehabilitation. After that, it was at that time that he became addicted and he was buying them off the streets. And when the price became too high — it was $40 a pill — he was offered heroin. And heroin was $3 a hit,” Payzycki said.
She’s a proponent of legislation that would require doctors to disclose the dangers of prescription opiates to patients under 18 and their parents or guardians before prescribing them. The bill passed the Senate in October, then passed the Assembly unanimously in December.
“It not only takes care of the pain, it causes euphoria. And it is this euphoria that teenagers are so susceptible to because their brains are still malleable and they’re still developing until age 26. This bill is 18 and under because we couldn’t get it across the board,” she said.
Earlier versions of the bill met opposition.
“Well I don’t think the government has a role in practicing medicine,” said Assemblyman Herb Conaway.
Conaway is a doctor and he did vote for the bill this time around.
The medical professionals we spoke with said there are two issues at hand. One, is going over the risks and benefits with a patient — the right thing to do — and two, is this the right way to do it?
“It’s a bad case of good intentions. I think the intention of the legislation is good, right? They want to bring awareness. They want to actually get to a granular level of saying we need our physicians, our medical community having more in depth conversations with their patients. All good. The question becomes, is it really an appropriate legislative action,” said Holy Name Medical Center CEO Michael Moran.
“It’s concerning to me as a physician, as a physician administrator, when the legislators try to get into the exam room,” said Holy Name Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Adam Jarrett.
The Senate version of the bill had been watered-down to scrap a scripted discussion between doctors and patients. As it now stands, the doctor would be required to make a note in the patient’s file indicating the conversation took place. But doctors say, the conversations are already happening and documenting them all isn’t feasible.
“You could take this to the nth degree, and say to a physician well then you need to do this when you prescribe Asprin, and you need to do this when you prescribe blood pressure medicine. And I would make the argument that physicians are doing that, but they’re not documenting it the way that the legislation would suggest it needs to be documented, nor do I think it’s feasible to do,” Jarrett said.
This piece of legislation is one of a slew awaiting Gov. Christie’s signature in the new year.