New Jersey Could Mandate Doctor-Patient Discussions About Opioid Risks

By McCarton Ackerman 04/02/15

While the 21-bill package is promising, some physicians fear that the mandatory talks could scare patients away from the best possible treatment. 


Can we talk? That’s what some state officials in New Jersey want physicians to ask their patients when it comes to discussing the dangers of opioid drugs.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Vitale, would mandate patient conversations about drug addiction when pain medication is prescribed. The legislation is part of a 21-bill package that addresses drug prevention, education, treatment and recovery throughout the state.

However, some medical professionals are opposed to the idea of mandatory discussions on any subject. Physicians across the state believe that the bill could lead to a slippery slope where doctors are eventually told how to practice medicine. Others have expressed concern that the talks could scare patients out of taking opioid drugs when they’re the best method of treatment in that case.

“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. "We just think that patients ought to be informed of all the information that's out there and be forward about potential consequences."

Vitale is considered by many to be a pioneer for drug prevention and treatment in the state. He is working on a $5 million funding increase to treatment providers and patients who can’t afford care, as well as overhauling how the state addresses both prevention and recovery.

“Addiction is a lifelong illness and should be treated exactly the same as any other physical illness,” he said last September. "We want to make sure that this is a collaborative effort, that this is sort of a holistic strategy in terms of addressing all the elements of addiction. You don't want to play whack-a-mole with addiction."

New Jersey is currently battling a major heroin and opiate abuse crisis. Over 33,000 people sought treatment for heroin or opiate abuse in 2013, a 50% spike since 2006. Data from the DEA also showed that at least 557 people died from heroin overdoses in 2013, more than in New York City. This could be due to the fact that the purity of heroin found in New Jersey is among the highest in the nation.  

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.