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Could abuse-deterrent pills help stop NJ’s heroin epidemic?

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As the prescription painkiller and heroin abuse epidemic continues, New Jersey lawmakers are considering the idea of requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of abuse-deterrent opioid drugs.

Pharmaceutical lobbyists are pushing ADO’s as a piece of the puzzle, one way to reduce the epidemic. But not everyone is completely on board.

State Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, said abuse-deterrent opioids are a good start, but they’re not going to stop the opioid epidemic and he’s a bit hesitant to endorse their use wholeheartedly.

He explained the deterrent opioid pills are very difficult to crush or cook, which means they can’t be snorted or injected to gain a greater high.

“It’s really not for the average person who’s trying to manage their pain, it’s for the person who’s abusing the drug,” he said.

Vitale pointed out abuse-deterrent opioids will not stop people from turning to heroin, because it’s cheaper and easier to get.

“A pill on the street in the black market could cost upward of $20 to $25. A deck of heroin is $5, and that’s a hell of a lot cheaper than $20 a pop,” he said.

Another problem is cost.

“They are a little expensive, certainly more expensive than the average painkiller that’s prescribed by a doctor,” he said.

“We all want to solve this problem, but I’m not so sure the abuse deterrent pills are quite there yet. I just don’t want to raise this false sense of security that abuse deterrent is abuse-proof because they’re not.”

Dr. Deni Carise, the chief clinical officer with the Recovery Centers of America, agrees abuse-deterrent opioids can be helpful in some ways, but they’re not going to solve the opioid problem.

“The number one way that people abuse opioids is to take more than prescribed, so no different kind of formulation is going to stop you from taking more than is prescribed,” she said.

Carise pointed out the positive aspect of abuse deterrent opioids is the pill container is almost crush proof so they’re harder to open and misuse, but “they’re still opioids, they still are an addictive medication.”

Legislation that would require state-regulated health plans to cover ADO’s was pocket vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie more than a year ago because of concerns about cost.

A similar measure has been approved by an Assembly committee but has not yet been considered by the Senate Health Committee.

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You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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