growing epidemic of opiate abuse within the state’s prison system.

McGreevey speaks about drug epidemic in N.J. jails

If law enforcement can’t control substance abuse within a prison system.. what makes them believe that they can do any better in the general population ?

Doctors, law enforcement, and former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey gathered at the Morris County Correctional Facility Thursday morning to discuss the growing epidemic of opiate abuse within the state’s prison system.

The “Do No Harm” symposium was the first of its kind in New Jersey, and gave the dozens of attendees an opportunity to learn about the epidemic of prescription drug and heroin abuse in correctional facilities and across the state.

Hosted by the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, the Morris County Sheriff’s Office, the Morris County Prevention is Key organizaton, and the state Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the title of the event, “Do No Harm,” refers to the phrase commonly associated with the Hippocratic oath doctors take to help patients.

“But point is, there is harm,” McGreevey said. “Physicians, pharmacists, the culture is being harmed by this epidemic. And it requires medical and law enforcement to place healthcare interests before all else.”

McGreevey, the director of the Jersey City Employment and Training Program, was the keynote speaker.

Angelo Valente, executive director of Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, called upon the experts in the room — both in the medical and law enforcement fields — to come up with a solution to the drug problem in the state’s jails.

“The opioid abuse problem is a plague currently threatening our communities locally and nationally,” said Carl Kotowski, special agent in charge of the state DEA. “There needs to be cooperation among law enforcement, prevention organizations, physicians, and pharmacists to help tackle this issue.”

Phil Streicher of state DEA’s Tactical Diversion Squad laid out some sobering facts for attendees.

More than 6,000 people have died from an overdose in the state since 2004, he said, and more teens are dying from drug overdoses in New Jersey than car accidents.

Streicher said his team of about 15 agents are responsible for policing more than 46,000 state DEA registrants.

“We go after the dirty doctors, dirty pharmaceuticals,” Streicher said. “The doctors and physicians in here, in this state, have sworn an oath. And the ones who are dirty to me are worse than a street corner dealer. Shame on them. Just a drug dealer wearing a white coat.”

Physicians weren’t afraid to ask questions of the speakers, including what to do if a patient comes to them expecting a prescription.

“Three easy words,” Streicher said. “‘You are discharged.'”

McGreevey echoed the sentiment, stating prescription drugs are given out too frequently, can be highly addictive and can sit in medicine cabinets where others can access them.

“We lived without prescription drugs for hundreds of years,” he said. “You don’t need Vicodin for a toothache.”

McGreevey actively engaged with the physicians and stressed their importance in stopping what he said is an epidemic.

“We’re in the midst of an American crisis,” he said. “Black, white, Hispanic — this is an American issue. I can’t underscore that enough.”

McGreevey called for a national network rather than enforcing regulations state by state, and for physicians reporting on prescriptions to keep better track.

“I have a great respect for physicians,” McGreevey said. “Medicine is a precious good but we need responsible production and administration.”

McGreevey shared stories of families affected by drug abuse first hand and talked about his recent meetings with parents who had lost children to overdoses.

“These were good parents,” McGreevey said. “Kids will always make a large percentage of lousy decisions. It’s up to adults to make those decisions for them.”

Sindy Paul, medical director for the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners, and Donald Reeves, clinical assistant professor at Rutgers Medical School, also spoke about misuse of prescription drugs and drug abuse in prison respectively.

After the symposium ended, Morris County Sheriff Ed Rochford led physicians on a full tour of the facility, crediting his officers at the jail for working the “toughest beat in law enforcement” and doing an outstanding job.

“One measure of success in the rate of recidivism” Rochford said. “If we can assist in an inmate’s ability to give their life a positive direction, it is better for the whole community.”

3 Responses

  1. That’s just very single minded. What about the people who really have debilitating diseases or conditions that cause severe chronic pain. Those medications can make the difference between having some sort of quality of life and not being able to function. All patients should not be forced to stop taking those medications because of some Doctors being irresponsible. Absolutely tighten up the rules on prescribing pain meds but don’t take them from the people who really need them.

  2. I thought the same thing as the above comments when I read that people don’t need Vicodin for a toothache. I wonder if the guy ever had a bad toothache? What about a bad earache? And, we went for hundreds of years without medication? Yes, and people suffered and died because they did not have it.

  3. I hope every tooth in his head starts aching at the same time . . . Bet he runs to the doctor DEMANDING a vicodin!

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