By David Cruz
There is clearly still a part of Chris Christie that believes he should be the one sitting where his friend — the president — is now sitting. But Christie is also a realist who’s fond of saying that elections have consequences and, for him, the consequences are that he has to rebuild his image and make himself relevant again, nationally. And that’s part of what he was doing today, following up on yesterday’s appointment to chair the president’s opioid addiction task force, by visiting with medical staff from St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson to talk some more about the nation’s opioid epidemic and his prominent role is the fight.
“Yesterday was, I think, a really great day to get the country focused on this issue,” he told participants, “and when I was putting together the event yesterday for the president, I told the folks at the White House that I had no interest in participating unless I could bring some folks from New Jersey who were addicts and a mom who had lost a son to the problem because I wanted the president to hear that.”
The governor has become the messenger of the opioid epidemic. This video of his story about losing a friend to opioid addiction has been viewed millions of times. He’s featured as part of a $15 million public service announcement campaign and has been hosting roundtable discussions with health care providers, addicts and their families. He’s dedicated the final year of his term to raising awareness about the issue. At St. Joseph’s, Dr. Mark Rosenberg thanked the governor for his efforts and talked about the hospital’s Alternatives to Opiates Program.
“When we started the program here, in the first year of the program, we had a 58 percent reduction in opioids prescribed by the emergency department and used in the emergency department,” said Rosenberg. “No other program, no other initiative has even come close to that.”
Rosenberg says the program has helped to change the culture, not only in the emergency department, but in the hospital as a whole. The emphasis is on pain management using any number of alternatives to prescription drugs, including non-opioid medications and ultrasound guided nerve blocks. The result is up to 75 percent of patients reporting adequate pain relief without powerful opioids. But, every success is tempered by a quick glimpse at the enormity of the problem, said one doctor.
“The better we do with that, the more alternatives that we’re going to get to work with, so the patient who suffers from chronic migraines, who drives to the hospital with a bucket on their lap because they’ve been puking the whole time from their chronic migraines, who’s been habituated on narcotics by somebody else,” said Michael DeLisi, chairman of the Family Medicine Department. “I can give high-flow oxygen therapy too, which may abate their headache. Well, fine, now I can abate their headache. Now I got a host of other problems, and not necessarily a willing patient.”
For all the attention Christie has brought to his efforts at the head of this fight, the stark reality — as several panelists pointed out today — is that more people have died in the last year from opioid related incidents than have been killed by guns or auto accidents. It’s certainly not president of the United States, or attorney general, for that matter, but, as important jobs go, fighting the biggest national drug scourge in decades is no small task.