CAMDEN, NJ—  Gov. Phil Murphy and his administration were in Camden today to announce new initiatives the state is launching to combat the opioid epidemic — including adding opioid addiction as a condition under the state’s medical marijuana program.

The initiatives are part of $100 million investment made by the governor to fight the opioid crisis. In 2018, over 3,000 people from New Jersey died from a suspected drug overdose, up 15 percent from 2017.

“None of us are here today to claim and sort of victory, period,” Murphy said at Cooper University Medical Center Wednesday.

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The governor’s new strategy focuses on four core components:

  • Increasing access to evidence-based prevention and treatment programs.
  • Supporting individuals on their path to and maintenance of recovery.  
  • Building data systems and strengthen system-wide infrastructure for the addictions community.
  • Delivering robust law enforcement to stem the supply of illicit drugs, while also supporting diversion programs.

The governor unveiled a number of new programs and policy changes the state will launch to accomplish those four goals.

Two key policy changes are adding opioid addiction as a condition under the state’s medical marijuana program; and the removal of prior authorizations in Medicaid for medication assisted treatment [MAT] of opioid addiction, which officials described as an insurance barrier that prevented those using Medicaid from receiving treatment.

MAT is the use of approved medications to help treat substance abuse disorders alongside therapy and counseling.

“We need to do things that we know are working, and we know MAT works and we have to run that through the Medicaid system,” Murphy said. “It’s evidence-based, cost-effective and allows providers to treat more patients, and allows patients to remain in their communities, in their jobs and in their families.”

State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said that by adding opioid addiction as a condition under the state's medical marijuana program, it allows those suffering from a substance abuse disorder to safely treat symptoms like chronic pain and mood disorder issues that may contribute to their opioid addiction.

"There's clinical data that strongly suggests that medical marijuana can help people bridge and reduce their dependence on opioids," Elnahal said.

Additionally, Medicaid will be building Centers of Excellence for opioid treatment at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and Cooper Medical School of Rowan University — Essex and Camden counties rank numbers one and two in suspected drug-related deaths in 2018, according to data from the state. Murphy said that the two centers will cost about $4 million.

“We’ll be hoping to hold these two locations up as models in our state,” Murphy said. “Tragically, there’s no smarter place to put these centers of excellence, there’s no better medical school than Cooper.”

Programs that state is launching include incentivizing primary care doctors to administer MAT; expanding the state’s syringe access program; and providing MAT for inmates in state and county jails.

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