NJ attorney general gives details of opioid legal actions in state
As part of the Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall series, New Jersey's Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal joined Rutgers Athletics’ town hall held at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) Friday morning.
In his speech, Grewal outlined the ways the state is dealing with the national opioid epidemic and said that as its chief law enforcement officer, he would hold those responsible for the epidemic accountable.
New Jersey has lost 10,000 people to drug overdoses within the last five years, Grewal said, and has begun taking steps to better enforce the manufacturers and doctors who have monetized the opioid epidemic, which has caused 400,000 deaths nationwide in the past two decades and continues to plague approximately 2 million people in the United States with addiction.
New Jersey is the national hub for many pharmaceutical companies, who have sold prescription drugs that have fueled the opioid crisis in the United States. One of the most scrutinized actors in the epidemic, Johnson & Johnson, is headquartered in New Brunswick. The company recently settled a lawsuit with two Ohio counties for approximately $20.4 million for its role in the opioid malignancy, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal.
“We’re holding anyone accountable who is profiting from this epidemic or contributing to it. I don’t care if you are operating out of an exam room and ... monetizing your prescription packet, I don’t care if you are operating out of a corporate boardroom, I don’t care if you are operating on a street corner. We are going to hold you accountable,” Grewal said during Friday’s town hall.
New Jersey’s lawsuit against the Sackler family, who operated Purdue Pharmaceuticals, one of the largest contributors to the opioid epidemic, is just the first of legal actions holding corporate actors accountable, Grewal said. There are many more lawsuits against opioid manufacturers in the queue.
“We recognize the opioid crisis is a tremendously complex public health issue, and we have deep sympathy for everyone affected. We are working with partners to find ways to help those in need,” according to a Johnson & Johnson company statement provided when company representatives were reached out to by The Daily Targum on the matter.
The statement continued: “The Company responsibly provided needed, U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved prescription opioid pain medicines for physicians to treat their patients suffering from severe pain. Our actions in the marketing and promotion of these important prescription pain medications were appropriate and responsible. In fact, NUCYNTA® was introduced in 2009 under a federal program designed to reduce risks, and data show the medication was not widely abused or diverted."
Along with enforcement, Grewal said the state’s efforts to counteract the opioid epidemic include new actions in treatment and prevention.
Low-level drug offenders will be placed in diversion treatment instead of typical criminal punishment. The effort is part of Operation Helping Hand, an effort that has law enforcement direct those struggling with opioid addiction to treatment options instead of typical criminal punishments, Grewal said.
“They are athletes, they are people right of high school, who went down this road,” Grewal said. “But rather than put them into the constant cycle of arrest and court appearance, we are diverting them to treatment to give them the opportunity during their time of need.”
Opioid addiction can be prevented by educating people on the risks of taking medication that contain opioids, Grewal said.
“When you are injured, be informed," he said. “Ask your doctor about alternatives to opioids. Is there something less powerful than this opioid they are giving you? What are the consequences? Now, we’ve mandated them (doctors) to do this, that here in New Jersey, you should have an informed conversation and give informed consent.”
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