US Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy stops in NJ on nationwide ‘Turn
the Tide’ Tour urging doctors to help stem the tide of addiction
by improving prescribing practices
VA: Vets 2x more likely to suffer from chronic pain, fall victim to highly
addictive opioid pain killers
LIVINGSTON, N.J. – In their latest effort to raise awareness and
advance policies to tackle the ongoing heroin and opioid addiction crisis
plaguing New Jersey and the nation, U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory
Booker (both-D-N.J.) today hosted U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy
and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Under Secretary for Health
David Shulkin for a forum with local doctors, treatment providers, and
advocates at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston.
More than 300 people attended today’s heroin and prescription opioid
addiction forum hosted by Sens. Menendez and Booker
“Our state is facing one of the most challenging public health crises
in recent memory. Nearly every community has been impacted; too many lives
have been lost, and too many families torn apart by heroin and prescription
said Sen. Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee with direct oversight
over federal health policy. “By proactively engaging the medical
community and all New Jerseyans, it is my hope that we can not only highlight
this ever-growing crisis, but devise a path to end it. I am pleased that
Drs. Murthy and Shulkin are lending their voices and expertise in that
“Heroin addiction and opioid abuse have reached epidemic levels in
the United States, and it is tearing individuals, families, and communities
apart. We need policies that will combat the devastating impact this crisis
Sen. Booker said. “Today’s forum is critical for raising awareness and I am
grateful to Drs. Murthy and Shulkin for joining this substantive conversation
to strengthen our regional and national commitment to fighting for federal
resources, education, and treatment funding. Together, we can and will
tackle this crisis head on.”
The discussion largely focused on improving the prescribing practices of
doctors to reduce the supply of misused opioids while still treating pain
safely and effectively. An important driver of the opioid epidemic is
legally written prescriptions from doctors, dentists, nurse practitioners
and physician assistants. By improving prescribing practices, clinicians
can reduce the supply of misused opioids while still treating pain safely
and effectively. The forum also featured a demonstration on how to administer
the lifesaving, overdose-reversing drug naloxone.
(l-r) RWJBarnabas Health Chief Medical Officer John Bonamo, Barnabas Medical
Center President & CEO Steve Zieniewicz, Sen. Booker, Dr. Murthy,
Sen. Menendez, Dr. Shulkin, moderator Angelo Valente from Drug Free NJ
”A key to ending the opioid epidemic is to shift the way we think
and talk about addiction, so that our attitudes reflect compassion and
said Dr. Murthy. “Addiction is not a moral failing or a character flaw. It is a
chronic illness, one that can be treated effectively, but only if the
people who are suffering feel free to come forward and ask for help."
The Surgeon General is currently on a national tour designed to educate
and mobilize prescribers to take immediate action to end this epidemic.
Turn the Tide is a national campaign based on the concept of “prescribers
talking to prescribers.” Dr. Murthy is visiting states, like New
Jersey, that have been especially hard hit by the prescription opioid
epidemic and will send letters to over two million prescribers and health
care professionals, urging them to: improve prescribing practices, inform
their patients about the risks of opioid addiction, and connect people
with opioid use disorders to evidence-based treatment.
Heroin deaths in New Jersey are up 160 percent since 2010, with more than
1,200 overdose-related deaths last year alone. In 2015, more than 28,000
New Jerseyans sought treatment for heroin or opioid abuse, significantly
outpacing previous year’s figures. The heroin death rate in five
counties – Camden, Ocean, Cape May, Union, and Middlesex –
significantly exceeds the number of treatment beds available per 100,000 people.
(l-r) Dr. Murthy, Valente, Sen. Menendez discussing the opioid crisis
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 78 Americans
die every day from an opioid overdose, and heroin-related deaths more
than tripled from 2010-2014 with approximately three out of four new heroin
users report first abusing prescription opioids. Veterans are twice as
likely to die from an accidental opioid overdose as non-veterans, according
to a 2011 study of the VA system.
"The Barnabas Health Institute for Prevention program recovery services
for opioid overdose should be commended. VHA has undertaken
a national initiative to make overdose education and naloxone rescue kits
available to Veterans at risk of accidental or intentional overdose.
Reducing opioid overdose has long-term success when coupled with attentive
Dr. Shulkin said.
“RWJBarnabas Health is extremely proud to have been selected to host
this important public health discussion on the opioid addiction crisis
in New Jersey,”
said Barry H. Ostrowsky, president and CEO, RWJBarnabas Health, the largest hospital network in New Jersey. “The Barnabas Health
Institute for Prevention (IFP) last year was awarded funding through the
state’s Opioid Overdose Recovery Program Grant (OORP) for a two-year
pilot program, to provide pioneering recovery support services for those
individuals reversed from an opioid overdose and treated at select hospital
emergency departments in and out of the RWJBarnabas Health.”
Sens. Menendez and Booker cosponsored the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery
Act (CARA), which was signed into law last month, and continue to fight for full funding. Among its provisions, the legislation
provides resources to states to expand disposal sites for unwanted prescription
drugs and to develop better monitoring systems for prescription drug use,
makes naloxone more widely available to law enforcement agencies and other
first responders to help prevent overdoses and save lives, creates an
evidence-based opioid and heroin treatment and intervention program, and
sets national treatment standards.
the Senators convened a statewide summit to explore solutions to the heroin
and opioid addiction epidemic gripping New Jersey and the nation. A month later, they partnered with
local law enforcement to promote
National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day and encourage New Jerseyans to discard all unwanted narcotic pain killers
and other prescription drugs at participating local police stations and
county prosecutor’s offices.
Menendez held another strategy session in the fall to discuss drug treatment options and programs, access to medications,
and explore ways the federal government can help.
Sens. Menendez and Booker joined a bipartisan group of 29 senators urging
the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to improve access
to substance abuse treatment in response to America’s worsening opioid addiction crisis by expanding
covered services to include substance abuse treatment in all medically
necessary care settings.
Sen. Menendez pressed U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Secretary
Sylvia Burwell during a Senate Finance Committee hearing in February to expand access to medication assisted treatment options, which
led HHS a month later to move to double the current patient limit for qualified physicians who prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid use