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New Jersey has seen a big increase in drug overdose deaths, with 1,600 lives lost in 2015

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to chair commission to help fight the opioid epidemic

CNN  — 

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will take on an advisory role to help figure out ways the Trump administration can fight the opioid epidemic.

President Donald Trump made the announcement at a meeting at the White House Wednesday, with Christie sitting by his side. Trump introduced him as a “very effective guy” and said the governor will work with representatives in state and local government, as well as law enforcement, medical professionals, and victims to figure out the best ways to deal with this epidemic.

Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids quadrupled. From 2000 to 2015, more than 500,000 people died from drug overdoses, and opioids account for the majority of those deaths. It’s estimated 91 Americans die every day from this addiction, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and for every death, more than 30 others are admitted to the emergency room.

The Trump administration has said opioid addiction and treatment are priorities. On the campaign trail, Donald Trump spoke about expanding incentives for states to use drug courts and mandate treatment. He also vowed to expand access to treatment slots.

The proposed Trump budget (PDF) released this month highlighted a $500 million increase from above 2016 levels to expand opioid misuse prevention efforts and to increase drug treatment. It is unclear if that increase would be from additional funds, or if it would be from money made available through the 21st Century Cures Act, which President Barack Obama signed in December. That legislation provides $1 billion for drug treatment for fiscal years 2017 and 2018.

Christie has spoken at length about his efforts to end the opioid epidemic. His state has had its share of problems. There has been a significant 16.4% increase in drug overdose deaths in New Jersey from 2014 to 2015, according to the CDC. There were 1,600 lives lost in 2015 alone, which is four times the number of homicides in the state and three times the number of fatalities in accidents that year.

In response, Christie has signed Senate Bill 3, a bipartisan initiative that requires health insurance to cover treatment and substance abuse without delay. “Now, with this legislation, people seeking treatment cannot be denied access in their time of need,” Christie said when signing the bill last month.

The law also creates what Christie called some of the country’s strongest maximum limits on initial opioid prescriptions. That means doctors can only give their patients a five-day prescription for opioid pain pills. Other states, including New York, Massachusetts and Maine, have enacted laws that limit prescriptions, but those limits are typically seven days.

These pain pills can become a gateway to addiction and to heroin use, studies show. New Jersey already had a law that requires doctors to consult with a prescription monitoring database before they prescribe opioid painkillers. It’s one of 29 states to make that requirement.

New Jersey has also created commercials featuring the governor telling people where they can go to get help. The state set up a hotline and created a website.

“As I’ve said before addiction is not a moral failing, it is a disease and the more that we talk about it as a disease, treat it as a disease, regulate it as a disease, the more people will finally get the idea that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but it is in fact a sign of strength,” Christie said at a press conference last month.

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    At a CNN town hall meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price this month, addiction recovery specialist and former addict John Brogan credited Christie in part with saving lives in the state. “If it were not for Gov. Christie, there would be 100 more people on top of the 1,600 that we lost last year for this epidemic,” Brogan said.

    Christie met with Trump in February at a White House lunch in which the governor said they spent a “good amount of time” talking about the problem and other ways they could fight the epidemic on a “much broader level.

    At Wednesday’s White House meeting, Christie said he is honored to take on this task.

    “Every life is an individual life from God and no one life is irredeemable, and people make mistakes we all have, and when people make mistakes of drug use, and it is a mistake, we can’t throw their life away,” Christie said.