HEALTH

Summit looks at state and federal responses to opioid epidemic

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

The director for noninfectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rita Noonan, says the first wave of the opioid epidemic was due to over-prescription.

“We are literally talking about the public health epidemic of our lifetime,” said Noonan. “We have already surpassed the number of deaths due to HIV at the peak of that epidemic if you want to put it into perspective.”

The Knock Out Opioid Abuse Summit, sponsored by the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey and the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, looked at the state and federal responses to the epidemic.

“In 2009, New Jersey’s DEA is the one who started the national take back initiative. To date, in New Jersey we have approximately 236,000 pounds of pharmaceuticals off the street,” said Susan Gibson, special agent in charge at the New Jersey Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Suzanne Kunis, director of behavioral health at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, explained that the health insurance company is launching a pilot program this summer to get treatment to its most vulnerable members.

“They’ll be peer support, 24/7 available to the patient. We have a structured outreach program where that person will be contacted at least four times a month from a peer,” said Kunis.

“We have a new funding announcement on the street right now and its $315 million and we have asked all the states and eligible recipients to pass at least 20 percent of that to localities. So if you were in New Jersey and your state was going to get millions of dollars, you know, I think it would be wise to talk to the people in the state health department, talk to the applicants and say, ‘Hey, we have a really good thing going,'” Noonan said.

Noonan stressed the importance of looking at solutions from the past to address the present. She again highlighted the HIV crisis.

“The analogy for us is medication-assisted treatment works,” Noonan said. “It works, not 100 percent, but it works better than the alternatives if you look at the evidence.”

The discussion kicks off a new series of town halls.

“We need to continue to focus on education,” said Angelo Valente, executive director of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey

Over the next two years, Knock out Opioid Abuse will take the discussion on the road to each one of New Jersey’s counties.