After more than a year of behind-the-scenes work, State Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Woodbrige) is scheduled to unveil a 21-bill package Wednesday aimed at addressing New Jersey's growing heroin and prescription drug abuse problem.

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Vitale said he will be joined by Democratic and Republican lawmakers from the state Senate and Assembly.

"Heroin and opiate addiction is a serious issue. It is a health care crisis. It's a public health care crisis. It's an epidemic in this state," Vitale said.

The legislation does not seek to punish those addicted to drugs. Instead, it focuses on treatment, prevention and education because the loss of life to heroin and prescription drugs has reached epidemic proportions in the Garden State, according to Vitale.

"Individuals are dying. Every week we hear about another overdose. These deaths are preventable now and if we don't do something the problem is only going to get worse," Vitale said.

Within the 21-bill package is legislation that would educate those receiving prescription medications about the addictive risks those medications might pose to some patients.

The package of bills will also include a review of schools' substance abuse curriculum and would expand the New Jersey Prescription Monitoring program, by requiring doctors to register and cross reference the online database when prescribing potentially addictive medications.

In addition, some of the bills set to be introduced will address issues that exist in New Jersey when it comes to getting treatment for substance abuse.  It includes legislation that would increase the Medicaid reimbursement rate for behavioral health care services in an effort to encourage more doctors to treat Medicaid recipients.  Another measure will give those seeking treatment help with their insurance claims.

Also included in the package are bills related to substance abuse of those in prison.

Vitale said all of these bills will help address this growing problem.

"Many more are dying because of the strength of the drug, the availability of it. It's very inexpensive and substance abuse isn't just an urban issue. It's a rural problem, it's a suburban problem, it's an urban problem. It crosses all socioeconomic boundaries," Vitale said.







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