Stricter Warning Labels on Opioid Prescriptions Proposed In New Jersey

By Paul Gaita 03/14/18

If the bill passes, the state would be the first in the country to require such extensive warning labels.

Pill bottle lineup with emphasis on warning labels

A bill currently under consideration in the New Jersey legislature proposes stricter warning labels on all opioids prescribed throughout the state.

The measure, introduced by Assemblyman John Armato (D-Atlantic), would specifically highlight the medication's potential for dependency and overdose, and would supplement both federal warning labels and existing regulations on such prescriptions in New Jersey, which are among the most restrictive in the country in regard to distribution of opioids.

If the bill passes, the Garden State would be the first in the country to require such extensive warning labels.

The 69-year-old Armato, a committeeman in Buena Vista Township, is a member of the Atlantic County Opioid Task Force as well as a newly certified recovery coach who oversees a monthly meeting for co-dependents related or connected to individuals with dependency issues.

Armato believes that in a state that experienced more than 1,900 opioid-related deaths in 2016 alone, additional and more detailed labeling could be a crucial aid in the fight against the overdose epidemic.

"We have warning labels on just about all medications these days," Armato said, according to NJ Spotlight. "In the middle of this epidemic, we need to utilize every tool in our arsenal to increase awareness and education about the effects of opioid use. Adding a warning sticker to all opioid medications is an easy, cost-effective way that can save lives."

Under the proposed measure, the director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, which manages the prescription database, would collaborate with staff at the Department of Health to determine the tone and focus of the language on the labels. Pharmacists would then be responsible for adhering the warning sticker to medication containers.

As NJ Spotlight noted, the minimum requirement for the labels would be a red sticker with white text that clearly states the medication is an opioid and as such, carries a risk of dependency and overdose.

Though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the primary source for drug label regulation, individual states are allowed to request additional labeling. These typically take the form of pre-printed stickers that advise patients on how to take the drugs, such as "For External Use Only."

The labels proposed by Armato's bill would be the first in the nation to carry a warning for opioid medication.

Should the bill come to pass, it would add to measures already implemented by New Jersey legislators.

In 2017, former Governor Chris Christie imposed a five-day limit on new, acute pain prescriptions, which remains the strictest limit in the United States, and established the state's prescription database, which allows medical professionals to see how many opioid prescriptions have been given to individuals. 

The bill, which is co-sponsored by Armato's district mate, Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo, has been cleared in committee and could go before the full assembly this week.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.