By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson boasts the busiest emergency room in the state and says it recently became the first emergency room in the nation to adopt an alternative pain management program.
“ALTO, or the Alternative to Opioids Program, is a highly successful innovative approach to acute pain management without the use of opioids and the potential addictions associated with opioid use,” said Kevin Slavin, president and CEO at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center.
The program began about 90 days ago. St. Joseph’s showed it off today to lawmakers and stakeholders.
“When we need opioids we give opioids, but we do everything we can to use an alternative,” said Dr. Mark Rosenberg, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center.
The most commonly prescribed opioids are Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Vicodin and Percocet. Patients get hooked on those pain pills and then often switch to heroin for the opiate fix because it’s cheaper.
The hospital is trying to rely more on drugs like Tylenol.
“We are in the middle of a devastating national epidemic. It requires judicious and responsible opiate prescribing as well as exploring utilization of non-opioid analgesics whenever possible,” said Dr. Alexis LaPietra, medical director of pain management at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center.
The press conference came at times of torrent of statistics. For example, one in four people who use opioids apparently become drug-dependent.
“And in 2012 there were enough opioid prescriptions issued — nearly 260 million — to give every man, woman and child in the country their own bottle of pills,” said Sen. Bob Menendez. “Here in New Jersey heroin deaths are up 160 percent since 2010 and we’ve suffered more than 1,200 overdose related deaths last year alone.”
About 30 people assembled for a roundtable discussion closed to the press. They included the DEA, the State Police, prosecutors, addiction specialists and advocates.
Congressman Bill Pascrell called opioid addiction one of the most vexing problems in America.
“Everybody is at this table that should be except for a few other people. We need the pharmaceuticals here because they’re shoving drugs down our throats,” he said.
Sen. Cory Booker connected the opioid addiction crisis to his larger cause of criminal justice reform and treating drug addiction as a disease.
“Please understand that this Drug War we’ve been on since the 1980s has not been a war on drugs. It’s been a war on people. It has been a war on us, each other. And despite the courage and heroism of law enforcement that I’ve seen, we have not solved this problem. It has gotten dramatically worse over the decades,” he said.
Sens. Menendez and Booker said the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act has passed the U.S. Senate and could help. But Congressman Pascrell said it’s unlikely to pass on his side of Capitol Hill, because as he said, “the House is frozen in time.”
For more stories that are part of the initiative Healthy NJ: New Jersey’s Drug Addiction Crisis, click here.