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March 29, 2015

New Jersey may require doctors to discuss addiction with patients

With prescription pill and heroin addiction reaching epidemic proportions in New Jersey, the state Legislature is considering a law that would require doctors to discuss with patients the risk of opioid addiction when taking prescribed medications. 

The proposed measure, sponsored by Senator Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), aims to contain the spread of heroin addiction stemming from abuse of opioids, Newsworks reports. 

"You know. it's not a huge waste of anyone's time to have that conversation, and we're not trying to instruct doctors how to practice medicine," said Vitale, D-Middlesex. "We just think that patients ought to be informed of all the information that's out there and be forward about potential consequences."
The legislation, part of a 21-bill package to address drug prevention, education, treatment and recovery in New Jersey, hopes to combat the state's increasingly deadly problem

Supporters of the bill say that a requirement to discuss addiction would help stop the overprescription of opioid-based painkillers and give patients a chance to consider alternative medications. Vocal advocates Elaine and Steve Pozycki, who lost their son to a heroin addiction at age 32, wrote in an op-ed for NJ Spotlight

The need for moving forward with this kind of approach is underscored by the American Academy of Neurology’s recent determination that the risks of powerful narcotic painkillers outweigh their benefits for treating chronic headaches, low back pain, and fibromyalgia. The Academy noted that 50 percent of patients who took opioids for at least three months are still on them five years later.

A poll of New Jersey residents, sponsored by the non-profit Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, found that 91 percent of residents support a legal requirement for physicians to discuss the risk of developing either a physical or psychological dependency as a result of taking prescription painkillers. Sixty-four percent of residents felt that such a law would reduce the number of individuals who become addicted to pain medication. 

According to Newsworks, however, doctors may be less enthusiastic about the legislation.  Some fear hat a mandated conversation would interfere with their use of discretion, making a formality out of a judgment call  and potentially scaring patients away from taking the drugs even when they are the best treatment. 

In December, the Senate passed the discussion mandate by a vote of 36-1 and the Assembly version has been referred to that body's Health and Senior Services Committee. Last week, another component of the 21-bill package, requiring doctors to check the state's Prescription Monitoring Program, passed the Senate by a vote of 36-0.