More than 1,000 people in New Jersey died of a heroin/opioid overdose in the first half of 2016. The number of individuals admitted to treatment programs in New Jersey due to related abuse topped 38,000 last year.

Should your local doctor take part of the blame?

Prescription drugs
Brian Chase, ThinkStock

Continuing its fight against the heroin and painkiller epidemic, New Jersey on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the maker of a powerful opioid-fentanyl spray, alleging Insys engaged in a greed-driven campaign of consumer fraud and false claims, and directly caused at least one death in New Jersey.

Experts in the addiction field say the pharmaceutical industry certainly plays a role in the growing drug problem, but they believe there's another group that deserves a portion of the blame — whether or not they're knowingly behaving badly.

"The prescribers themselves — the physicians, the dentists, the pain management doctors — contribute to the problem by overprescribing, whether they do it on their own or whether they do it at the behest of the pharmaceutical companies," said Ezra Helfand, executive director of the Wellspring Center for Prevention in East Brunswick.

New Jersey's complaint against Insys noted the company paid doctors to prescribe its drug Subsys for off-label use. Attorney General Christopher Porrino said actions against doctors investigated in relation to the matter could be announced in the weeks or months ahead.

Physicians in New Jersey have the right to prescribe drugs for off-label use, based on their independent medical judgement. Experts in the field are more concerned about the rate at which doctors willingly prescribe addictive substances such as oxycodone.

"If you look at the data, 65 percent of opiate pain prescriptions are written by nurse practitioners and family doctors, and this needs to stop," said addiction psychiatrist Dr. Indra Cidambe, medical director of the Center for Network Therapy in Middlesex. "The ones who treat pain first hand — these are the people who should be prescribing pain medication."

Cidambe said there are two ways to tackle the opioid abuse problem — sue pharmaceutical companies and hold prescribers responsible for excessive prescription writing.

"I believe that the second way is more effective," she said.

In July, an Essex County doctor was arrested and charged for his alleged participation in a painkiller ring that reached Atlantic County. At the time, Porrino said six doctors had been charged criminally over the past few years for illegally distributing opioid pain pills.

New Jersey's Prescription Monitoring Program, which shares data with several other states, can be accessed by physicians and pharmacists to deter "doctor shopping" and ensure the patient they're seeing has a real need for narcotics.

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