A new idea for NJ: Giving Narcan to released prisoners
With the opioid crisis continuing unabated, lawmakers are considering new strategies for dealing with it – including the possibility of offering inmates on their way out of prison an injection that blocks heroin’s effects on the brain, plus a dose of Narcan, which can reverse an overdose.
Assemblyman Herb Conaway said inmates with a heroin addiction need more help when getting out of prison. He directs a health clinic at a Trenton hospital and says one patient overdosed and died a few days after being freed – having lost the tolerance to heroin while locked up.
“The sort of plan is to make sure that people live long enough to get into a program of medication-assisted treatment,” said Conaway, D-Burlington.
The bill was discussed Thursday but not voted on.
Roseanne Scotti, state director of the New Jersey Drug Policy Alliance, spoke against it.
She said she agrees to heroin antidote is important but that the current proposal limits treatment to Vivatrol – the most expensive and least effective option, at $1,000 for a shot that lasts a month.
“If we’re giving people all the best options and they get the one that’s best for them, we have a better chance of saving their lives and getting them into long-term recovery,” Scotti said.
Conaway said the advantage of Vivatrol is that one injection lasts for a month. He said he worries about counting on people to remember to take the less expensive oral pills once every day but is willing to consider expanding the treatment options.
A separate bill was advanced by the Assembly Appropriations Committee that would require all New Jersey high schools to keep a supply of opioid antidotes on hand and authorize the school nurse to administer it if a student or staff member is overdosing.
The idea was endorsed last month by the Assembly Education Committee and now is positioned for a vote by the full Assembly.
“It’s not only the students that are facing this, but it’s when their caretakers come to the school, many times they’re walking in the school and they’re having an overdose at that point in time as well,” said Assemblywoman Pamela Rosen Lampitt, D-Camden.
The cost would be fairly small – perhaps $20 to $40 per dose, according to nonpartisan budget analysts for the Legislature. With around 500 high schools in New Jersey, that’s perhaps $20,000 in total – unless they’re being used, or a school maintains more doses in their supply.
Assemblyman Gary Schaer questioned how it would be paid for, saying it’s potentially an unfunded mandate for public schools and a burden on parochials.
Private schools would be able to use nursing aid they get from the state. But Assemblyman John Burzichelli , D-Gloucester, said the cost will have to be considered while writing the state budget.
“Probably at some point, the Department of Education is going to have to fold this in, I would think. Or it’s going to get picked up on the local side. But at some point, it’s going to have to be paid for,” Burzichelli said.
Likewise, the heroin treatment for prisoners being released could cause added costs for the Department of Corrections. The bill doesn’t provide funding or specify a source for paying for it.
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