Doctors Prepare for Strict Opioid Prescription Regulations In New Jersey

By Kelly Burch 05/12/17

The new law limits opioid prescriptions to an initial five-day supply.

A doctor handing a bottle of pills to a patient.

Doctors are responding to New Jersey’s new opioid prescription law, slated to take effect next week—saying that while it will make it harder for people to abuse prescription opioids, it may also make it difficult for pain patients to access medications that they need. 

“The rules are very set in stone, it was rushed through, it was done too fast,” Dr. Louis Brusco Jr., chief medical officer of Morristown Medical Center, told Fox News after hearing officials explain the new rules.

However, the doctor also acknowledged where efforts to regulate opioid prescriptions are coming from. “There is no question that prescribers need to do a better job of vetting [patient requests for painkillers], and worrying about alternatives and addiction,” he said. “We have to take a burden of responsibility upon ourselves. But we have to remember that we are treating patients. Enforcement has to be fair to patients.”

The law limits initial opioid prescriptions to a five-day supply. Doctors can then renew the prescription for 25 days if the patient is still in pain. However, they must consult with the patient to make sure that the extension is really needed. National guidelines for prescribers advises limiting prescriptions to a seven-day supply. 

New Jersey officials say that the restrictions are necessary in order to save lives that are being lost to the opioid epidemic. 

“When I learned that eight of 10 drug overdose deaths began with prescription painkillers, I knew we had to act right away,” New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino said. “We promulgated these rules in response to an emergency. There’s no time to waste.”

Last year New Jersey disciplined 31 doctors for actions related to opioid prescriptions. While mis-prescribing doctors are relatively rare, the attorney general said that medical professionals must be held to a higher standard.

“Bad doctors are a small minority,” Porrino said. “But a bad doctor is worse than a street corner drug dealer—a doctor is someone who is shrouded in the public trust. A doctor has to be treated more harshly than a street drug dealer.”

The state will be closely monitoring doctors to make sure that the new rules are being followed, and all prescribers will be required to register with the New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program. Not following the law could potentially lead to criminal charges. However, Porrino is not concerned that the legislation is too strict. 

“We understand that some feel the law is too strong,” Porrino said. “I can argue that it should be even stronger."

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.