W

ASHINGTON — To fulfill his audacious pledge to end America’s opioid crisis, President Trump is turning to Chris Christie.

The New Jersey governor, who is leading Trump’s commission to tackle the problem nationwide, has seen the worst of the crisis in his state. Nearly 1,500 people died from overdoses in New Jersey in 2015, as the state saw one of the biggest spikes in deaths of any state in the nation.

Christie has been lauded for his heartfelt response to addiction issues and his commitment to treating drug abuse as a public health problem. The crisis was a plank of his failed bid for Republican presidential nomination, and he devoted his last State of the State speech in January to the issue.

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“Our friends are dying,” Christie said in that address. “Our neighbors are dying. Our coworkers are dying. Our children are dying, every day, in numbers we can no longer afford to ignore.”

His agenda, however, has not been without controversy, with some critics arguing he has used blunt-instrument policies to address nuanced problems.

The commission is Trump’s first major move on opioids since he became president. He has otherwise left key administration posts that would work on the crisis unfilled, and his proposed budget would slash funding for the agencies that oversee those efforts.

Advocates welcomed the appointment of Christie, who has cited the overdose death of an old friend in explaining his outlook on the issue.

“He has been at the forefront, he has signed legislation, he has put it at the center of the agenda,” said Andrew Kessler, a consultant who focuses on addiction. “He’s been one of the best.”

Here’s what you should know about Christie’s record on opioids.

Cracking down on prescription painkillers

Some of Christie’s most ambitious and controversial policies have sought to limit access to prescription painkillers.

Last month, he signed a bill that limits painkiller prescriptions for acute pain — like pain experienced after surgery or dental work — to just five days at first, as opposed to the usual 30. It is perhaps the most restrictive law in the country, though some other states have winnowed the length of those initial prescriptions to seven days.

Christie portrayed it as an aggressive step to stem the black market for opioids. Lengthy prescriptions, the governor said, are “dangerous, ill-advised, and absolutely unnecessary. We know addiction to opioids can occur within days.”

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But the bill faced some backlash from doctors, who said it interfered with their ability to care for their patients.

“This is a legal medication,” said Mishael Azam, a top official at the leading New Jersey doctors association. “The people who need it and use it legitimately — it is not fair to cut them off.”

The governor has also explored having New Jersey’s prescription-monitoring program coordinate with New York’s, again in an attempt to stop opioids from being diverted from their prescribed use. Christie also signed a bill in 2015 to expand the state’s program that allows people to drop off their unused medications.

Expanding insurance coverage and treatment options

First and foremost, Christie expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. That extended health coverage to half a million low-income New Jerseyans. Christie, one of several Republican governors who bucked his party and accepted the law’s expansion, has directly connected that decision to the opioid crisis.

“Through our efforts over the last three years, we have eliminated many of the barriers for the poor to receive treatment as well,” he said in his State of the State speech earlier this year. “When I expanded Medicaid eligibility … it created a sea change in the availability of drug treatment for the poor in New Jersey.”

Christie also approved new rules for private health insurance in New Jersey, requiring plans to provide up to six months of inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment and prohibiting requirements for prior authorization.

New Jersey has had some trouble making treatment available, however. A 2013 report found that the state had about 6,000 beds available for inpatient treatment, while more than 70,000 people were expected to seek either inpatient or outpatient treatment that year.

More recently, Christie signed legislation to expand access to overdose medications to emergency responders and non-professionals, and his office has also set up a hotline for people seeking treatment.

Overhauling the criminal justice approach to addiction

Christie, a former prosecutor, said in 2014 that the so-called war on drugs had failed. Much of his work has also focused on the criminal justice side of the opioid crisis.

As governor, he has pushed for the expanded use of drug courts, which direct nonviolent offenders to addiction treatment instead of prison. He has also sought to encourage businesses to hire people in recovery, while, at the same time, upping the criminal penalties for the production of illicit versions of powerful opioids like fentanyl.

Most controversial, however, was his opposition to a bill to provide some criminal immunity for people who have overdosed and for witnesses to an overdose who call for medical help. The bill’s supporters said it would encourage people to seek aid when an overdose occurred, by removing their fear of prosecution.

Christie, however, vetoed the initial version of the bill in late 2012. He argued that it did not account for the need to deter more widespread drug abuse and asked for an 18-month study of the concept.

The governor and the state Legislature reached a compromise the next year, after some minor adjustments were made, and Christie signed a bill granting such limited immunity.

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  • With all due respect, Gov. Christie, chronic pain patients have been blamed and cut-off from critical meds that kept them stabilized until all these laws came out. People have died from physician abandonment (improperly discharging patients rather than risk discipline), people have lost the ability to care for their kids and to work. People with brilliant minds have gone from functioning to bedbound. What would it take to get a meeting set up to establish some “middle ground” to help ease the suffering of chronic pain patients and Veterans?

  • Again,here we go!!. The governor,is hitting the opioid crisis, in a way ,that puts the GOOD,BAD,and the UGLY, together, as one big opioid problem. Their needs to be a seperation, of the big, said 3s. Their are to many good American people ,that need their pain meds,for chronic or cancer pain. This should be a group all on their, own. Away from,the bad and ugly. President trump needs to see this side of the problem, hopefully, the president, is open to these issues. I believe, he would. Knowing, these issues. And to protect these good American people.

  • I agree with Jcmmd. When heroine was ripping it’s way through the inner cites no one cared. just lock them up. Now it’s killing white rural and suburban males, now it’s they need treatment. The US did the exact same thing with AIDS.

  • What qualifies a food addict to be in charge of any addiction? Christie admitted to having weight loss surgery in 2013. Look at the size of him today. Considering that surgery was paid on the taxpayer dime, picking Christie was an extremely poor choice. May he one day know the suffering of those who obey the rules and can’t get their medication anymore thanks to addicts just like Christie. Disgusting.

  • “Curiouser and curiouser!”
    ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
    I was reminiscing today about the good ole days working in the inner cities of Philly and DC as an intern,resident and Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at UPENN. Back then dem colored folks who used drugs were criminals’ with the guardians of morality on the Hill shouting “Lock them up,lock them up” like the present day Trump supporters shouting about Hillary. So dem colored folks sure got locked up. There were not victims, no,they were going to destroy society– lock them up and throw away the key.
    Fast forward to 2017 — a scourge has swept the land– opioids. Every day , another story about a victim caught up in its lair. These are not criminals but innocent waifs just caught up with a disease, like diabetes or cancer– a disease they bear no responsibility for. But wait, in all the stories I read they are all red, white and blue Americans. And I mean red,WHITE and blue. Where de colored folks at?
    In a perverse turn of racism colored folks have been thought not to feel pain as much as whites(read your history) and have not been given the gateway opioids as their their white brethren have been when suffering pain. Or they were branded as drug seekers. But de white folks with pain , no problem. Now the chickens have come home to roost. The monster has been unleashed and this has resulted in a decrease in white male life expectancy .
    But don’t worry, big daddy Christie is going to save dis here land. Wonder where he was in the 70’s?
    “It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.”
    ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

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