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NJ responds to overdose deaths from heroin, painkillers

The criminal law is often an overly blunt instrument for dealing with a social or public health problem. New Jersey and other states have experienced this repeatedly with various drug crimes in recent decades.

After all, the "war on drugs" has typically put much more emphasis on prison sentences than on treatment for addiction problems. Punishment, not rehabilitation, has been emphasized far too often.

Increasingly, however, authorities are realizing education and treatment do have important parts to play in addressing issues of drug use.

Consider the problem of overdose deaths from prescription painkillers or heroin. In New Jersey alone, the medical examiner attributed 368 deaths to heroin last year. And the numbers are even higher so far this year.

New Jersey is trying to respond with more treatment for heroin addiction, not just with drug charges. Last years, more than 1 in every 3 treatments for substance abuse in the state was for heroin.

Treatment is becoming more available for opiate-based painkillers as well. When the treatment totals for opiates are added to those for heroin, the combined total comes to about half of all substance abuse treatments in New Jersey last year.

To be sure, there is more that needs to be done to address the public health problem of addiction. More monitoring of prescriptions could be done, perhaps using online databases to identify excessive purchases that may indicate either addiction or prescription fraud.

There is also more to be done with making sure that treatment options are available to those who struggle with addition to narcotic painkillers or heroin. The fact that more people have been getting such treatment does not mean that the need is fully met.

Source: The Times of Trenton, "Opinion: Taking back New Jersey from grip of heroin crisis," Mary Pat Angelini, JUne 17, 2013 

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