PDFNJ Ex. Dir. Stresses Link Between Rx Abuse and Heroin Abuse at GCADA Taskforce Hearing in Camden
Angelo M. Valente
Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey
Task Force on Heroin and Other Opiate Use by New Jersey’s Youth and Young Adults
Governor’s Council on
Alcoholism and Drug Abuse
Good Morning. Thank you Chairman Greenagel and members of the Task Force for the opportunity to speak to you today about the abuse of heroin in our state.
Abraham Lincoln once said -- every effect must have its cause. The past is the cause of the present, and the present will be the cause of the future.
I’d like to spend a few moments first discussing the effects of the past – in particular the link between the epidemic of prescription drug abuse and heroin addiction.
New Jersey has in many ways led the nation in identifying this link.
Long before the Centers for Disease Control designated Prescription Drug Addiction a national epidemic, New Jersey’s community coalitions, law enforcement and government agencies were collaborating on statewide public awareness campaigns to bring attention to this deadly addiction.
In fact, beginning in 2007 – four years before last November’s national epidemic designation – the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey was establishing the framework to respond to this public health crisis we all too well knew was lurking in our communities – The abuse of prescription drugs and its path to heroin addiction.
As was clearly stated in the June 2011 New Jersey State Commission of Investigation report, “When the supply dries up at home and a dose of OxyContin or Percocet, at $50 to $80, becomes too high, the new abusers turn to heroin… The link is there, Heroin offers a cheaper alternative, with the exact same high, if not better.”
In 2007, we also knew, from extensive research, that 70 percent of people who were abusing prescription drugs were obtaining them from the medicine cabinets of friends and relatives. At that point we at the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey knew this important statistic had to be shared -- and we dedicated all of our resources to disseminating this important information to all New Jersey residents. The Partnership created a simple message with an image of a Grandmother – alerting residents that there may be a “stash” of potentially life threatening substances in their medicine cabinets.
As a result of this campaign thousands of New Jersey residents contacted the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey for information on how to safely dispose of the unused, unwanted, and expired medicines in their home that potentially posed a threat to their children and grandchildren.
This outpouring of concern by New Jersey parents and grandparents led to the creation of 2009’s Operation Medicine Cabinet New Jersey – a one day, four hour program, that resulted in the proper disposal of over 9,000lbs. of medicine by over fifty-thousand of New Jersey residents. This joint program of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey and DEA New Jersey Division – in cooperation with the New Jersey Attorney General, State Police, and New Jersey Chiefs of Police Association, with the support of the New Jersey Prevention Network and the many municipal alliances across the state -- was trailblazing.
Its success was touted in the President’s 2010 Office of National Drug Control Policy report to the nation. This program also served as the pre-curser to the DEA’s National Take Back Day, and the American Medicine Chest Challenge.
The centerpiece of the American Medicine Chest Challenge is its Five-Step Challenge:
1. Take inventory of your prescription and over-the-counter medicine.
2. Secure your medicine chest.
3. Dispose of your unused, unwanted, and expired medicine in your home or at an American Medicine Chest Challenge Disposal site.
4. Take your medicine(s) exactly as prescribed.
5. Talk to your children about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
The American Medicine Chest Challenge community based public health initiative now has over 1,000 community and law enforcement partnerships in all 50 states, with the mission to raise awareness about the dangers of prescription drug abuse and provide safe disposal options – at a collection site or in the home.
As a result of this framework and public health campaign, we know through two years of extensive research by the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers University, that each of the 5-Steps of the American Medicine Chest Challenge are being taken in greater numbers by those who have seen our campaign. Why are these numbers so important? Mr. Chairman, as an educator yourself you know the importance of research based actions.
To give you one specific example, 30% of New Jerseyans are now taking inventory of the medicines in their medicine cabinet – an increase of 40% from 2009. There is a 60% increase in the number of New Jersey residents who are now securing their medicine cabinets, since 2009, and most importantly, we have seen 50% more New Jersey parents talking to their children about this deadly addiction, since the launch of the American Medicine Chest Challenge.
To revisit Abraham Lincoln’s wisdom today, we can clearly see that the past is truly the cause of the present -- what was started in New Jersey has now been mainstreamed into every corner of our country. And, we are beginning to see the results. Just this past week, the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released a survey that found the number of people aged 18 to 25 who used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes in the past month declined 14 percent.
If we accept the premise of the strong link between the past and the future, as we look to the future we should hopefully begin to see this decline impact heroin abuse rates in our state as well.
No comprehensive effort can be complete without the inclusion of a statewide public health campaign. The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey stands ready to continue its mission of providing municipal alliances with the tools necessary to personalize and disseminate our statewide lifesaving messages into every community in New Jersey and we look forward to working with and support this taskforce and its goals.