Why doctors are fighting NJ’s effort to limit pain pill prescriptions
New Jersey 101.5 video
During his State of the State address last week, Gov. Chris Christie announced his intention to enact an executive order to limit prescriptions written for acute pain to just five days.
Many doctors in New Jersey now routinely write prescriptions for a 30-day supply of opiate medication, including for a wide variety of dental procedures and sports-related injuries.
State Sen. Joe Vitale, D-Middlesex, the chairman of the Senate Health Committee, supports the plan put forth by the Republican governor.
“This is a step in the right direction because a lot of the addictions we’ve seen in New Jersey really happen with getting the inappropriate amount of pain medication the very first time,” he said.
He stressed for decades the pharmaceutical industry and some medical providers have treated pain in an inappropriate manner, and that has contributed to the heroin abuse situation we now see.
“They were creating new medicines, creating new pills, new pain medication, and making sure doctors knew about it and encouraged them to prescribe it and now we find ourselves in an epidemic,” he said
“We’ve got to really knock down the demand, because this is a supply-and-demand issue. But we’ve got to address this issue from many different angles: it’s prevention and education, treatment and recovery. This is one part of the puzzle.”
But Mishael Azam, the chief operating officer and senior manager of legislative affairs for the Medical Society of New Jersey, says the industry group does not support the plan to limit prescriptions and believes the law could backfire by encouraging illegal drug abuse — and even suicide.
Vitale pointed out a measure that would limit pain prescription medication to seven days was recently passed in the Senate, but it stalled in the Assembly because of pressure from the medical community.
“This is too much of an important issue, it’s a life and death matter, so I think it’s appropriate in this case that the governor issue an executive order,” he said.
Vitale believes doctors are still, in some cases, prescribing way too many opiates and they need to be limited when it comes to how long they can write a prescription for.
She said a great deal of work has already been done to change prescriber behavior so doctors are more aware of the risks of addition, and such a severe additional restriction is unnecessary.
Azam says physicians are data-driven and science-driven in their treatment, protocols and decisions on how to practice medicine, and statistics show “the more states restrict legal opiod medication, that creates a balloon effect of illegal substance abuse.”
She also believes this kind of regulation will wind up hurting patients with a serious medical issue.
“If they have a surgery and they’re laid up for 10 days, how will they go back in five days? Why punish the patients who need pain medication,” she said
Azam also stressed doctors are already being more careful with writing pain medication prescriptions, and in some cases this has spiraled out of control.
“We’re already hearing stories of pain patients committing suicide because they can’t get their meds anymore because doctors won’t prescribe them anymore,” she said.
“This type of regulation will definitely hurt a patient who is dependent, not necessarily addicted but could be dependent on their medication and they really need a certain amount of their opiod every day for their quality of life. If a doctor is too afraid to prescribe a medication or they’re limited legally, that’s when you have patients taking extreme measures and going to the illegal drug market,” she said.
Vitale doesn’t buy that argument. In fact he’s amazed that so many doctors are fighting the idea of limiting how long initial prescriptions can be written for.
“It’s unconscionable. It blows my mind that they would resist doing that, so frankly at this point I really don’t care. We’re going to do what’s right for the citizens of this state and to keep them safe,” he said.
“If it means stepping on some toes and hurting some feelings, well then so be it.”