To Curb Opioid Abuse, New Jersey Makes It Harder to "Doctor Shop"

The new law was part of a 21-bill package to fight one of the nation's highest rates of opioid and heroin abuse.

Physicians and pharmacists in New Jersey will have to register for a new program designed to it harder for patients to abuse pain medication, but few think this step alone will make a dent in one of the nation’s highest heroin death rates.

The new law, signed this weekend by Governor Chris Christie, expands the state’s prescription management program and is part of a 21-bill package targeting opioid and heroin abuse in New Jersey. Some counties in the Garden State have death rates 7 times the national average, which has itself soared since 2007, according to recent statistics from the CDC. The statewide death rate is 8.3 deaths per 100,000 population.

Partisan brawls are fierce in New Jersey state government, but the effort to combat heroin abuse is one area where the 2 political parties have found common ground. The state is a perfect storm for addiction: its ports provide easy entry points for heroin of very pure quality, and its transportation infrastructure allows the drug to get reach markets within hours, even if sellers or users do not have cars. As elsewhere, for some, the abuse of prescription painkillers is a gateway the abuse of heroin.

Under the new law, physicians and pharmacists register for access to the state’s prescription monitoring program, which will be used to track patients who are seeking drugs multiple doctors. It requires that physicians check the prescription management program when patients seek a second refill on a schedule 2 drug. Patients are already required to see their doctor when they get the second refill, so this added step would let physicians know that patients are seeing other doctors to get additional drugs.

Insurers in New Jersey have previously opposed putting abuse-detterent opioids in their least expensive drug tiers, NJ Spotlight reported in June. A bill to require that step is also part of the legislative package. The New Jersey Association of Health Plans said it shared concerns about opioid abuse but opposed the bill because it would add to the cost of covering drugs.