FILE - Opioid Epidemic

(The Center Square) – A bill backed by two members of Congress from New Jersey focuses on a wide spectrum of substance abuse from prevention to treatment and recovery, which a spokeswoman for the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey said is significant.

U.S. Reps. Andy Kim and Mikie Sherrill say the Solutions Not Stigmas Act, first introduced in 2019 by Kim, would expand and develop education and training programs for substance use disorder prevention and treatment, a recent news release from Kim’s office said.

The Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey engages all stakeholders including the medical community and parents so that everyone can do their part, Angela Conover told The Center Square.

“We're talking about safe prescribing with prescribers or parents making choices about, you know, whether to give their child an opioid. You'd have to just engage everyone,” she said. “And so, it looks like this legislation will help to bring some awareness to that while at the same time supporting the necessary recovery and treatment options, making sure people have the ability to get access to treatment and recovery.”

Conover said it’s a significant issue that continues to take lives – more than 3,000 in 2021 across New Jersey, with an impact in every community.

“There isn’t a family in our state that hasn’t been touched in some way,” she said.

Gov. Phil Murphy and the state Legislature dedicated last Thursday as “Knockout Opioid Abuse Day” to get the message out, she said.

In New Jersey, according to the state medical examiner, an opioid is found in more than 90% of overdose deaths, Conover said.

Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey works to educate pharmacists about safe prescribing and parents about making safe prescribing decisions, Conover said.

“For example, if your child has a sports injury, be aware if they're getting an opioid. Know the potential for dependency and addiction,” she said.

Oral surgeons and dentists are the No. 1 prescriber for adolescents, she said. Her organization works to get the message out to parents that they might use ice and Advil or Tylenol instead.

Parents who go ahead with an opioid should know the potential for dependency and addiction, and know the signs and symptoms of them to get children immediate help. They urge parents to lock up medicines.

Another method of prevention is to take advantage of opportunities to safely dispose of unused medicine.

“We have moved forward. New Jersey as a state has made a lot of steps in the right direction,” Conover said. “I think we were one of the only one of three states last year that did not see an increase in overdoses.”

The state is “holding the line," which she said is still incredibly high and unacceptable.

Fentanyl use is up, they say. The Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey has a campaign on the Garden State Parkway with signage telling motorists just a little bit of fentanyl is dangerous.

Near Philadelphia, authorities are seeing problems with Tranq, commonly used as a horse tranquilizer and not approved for human use. Conover said people are using it with other drugs. It makes them almost feel asleep and they become tentative.

Another issue is synthetic pills.

“People are buying pills on the street; they think that they're safe. They look like prescription pills that you would get from a pharmacy,” she said.

Those pills may not be 100% fentanyl, but they are pretty close to it, she said.

Increasing the availability of naloxone, a medication used for the emergency treatment of known or suspected opioid overdose, is another strategy the state has taken in the cycle of prevention, treatment and recovery, she said.