Last week, Gov. Chris Christie signed sweeping addiction legislation into law. The legislation was meant to address the addiction epidemic that took nearly 1600 lives in his state last year. Part of the law, aimed at insurers, mandates that insurance cover up to six months of substance abuse treatment. The other portion of the law takes aim at the health care industry, imposing one of strongest limits on initial opioid drug prescriptions and making patient and doctor education mandatory when prescribing narcotics.
“No one now under this legislation will be turned away from treatment for insurance reasons, if licensed provider prescribes substance abuse disorder treatment either inpatient or outpatient. Insurance coverage for treatment of substance abuse disorder will be required and any waiting period that could derail a person’s recovery is eliminated by this bill.,” Christie said during the signing ceremony. “The person who’s in the throes of addiction … and realizes he or she needs help, they should not be blocked from the treatment center doors with their lives hanging in the balance.”
The new law requires insurers to cover the first four weeks of inpatient or outpatient substance abuse treatment without the need for authorization by insurance company officials. They must also pay for up to six months of treatment, including medication such as Suboxone, if deemed medically necessary.
The law also forces new limits for initial opiate prescriptions to five days worth. The current initial supply of opioid drugs doctors can prescribe are up to 30 days. Doctors can prescribe opioid drugs beyond five days only after a second consultation with a patient. Christie says that patients being treated for cancer, palliative or end-of-life care are exempt under the law.
Many opponents to the law urged the governor to reject the law. Some lawmakers argued that the costs to insurance companies would cause healthcare prices to skyrocket, while opponents in the medical community said the medical guidelines would hurt patients in genuine need of relief provided by powerful opioids.
Dr. Debra Wentz, from the NJ Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, thinks the bills is a great start to change the way people get help for addiction. “This bill demonstrates the Christie Administration’s recognition that substance use disorders are medical illnesses, which, along with mental health disorders, must be treated the same – both clinically, and in attitude – as physical health conditions. Governor Christie has been a staunch advocate for substance use treatment and his consistently anti-stigma approach is a benefit to everyone with a substance use disorder.”
New Jersey is one of many US states that has been going through an opiate addiction epidemic. According to the New Jersey Medical Examiner’s Office shows there were 1,587 drug overdose deaths in 2015, up 21 percent from the year before. Heroin deaths also rose significantly, to 918, the highest level since accurate records have been kept in the Garden State.