Wimberly, Lagana, Danielsen, Oliver, Vainieri Huttle, Mazzeo, Downey & Mukherji Bill to Establish 'HOPE Initiative' to Combat Opioid Epidemic Clears Assembly

Legislation Assembly Democrats Benjie Wimberly, Joseph Lagana, Joe Danielsen, Sheila Oliver, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Vincent Mazzeo, Joann Downey and Raj Mukherji sponsored to establish a public awareness campaign to educate New Jersey residents about the dangers of heroin and opioid addiction gained approval from the General Assembly on Wednesday. 

The bill (A-1875) would require the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services in the Department of Human Services to establish and oversee a public awareness campaign that would be known as the "Heroin and Opioid Drug Public Education (HOPE) Initiative." 

"In roughly five years, New Jersey has seen an increase of more than 200 percent in the number of admissions to licensed or certified treatment programs for prescription drug abuse and a 700 percent increase over the last decade," said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). "The HOPE Initiative will give this crisis the focus it deserves in this state and educate residents on how to help themselves and loved ones who are addicted to heroin and opioids." 

"Heroin and opioid addiction crosses racial, socio-economic and professional boundaries," said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). "We must raise public awareness of the heroin and opioid addiction rapidly affecting all of New Jersey's communities."

"With the HOPE Initiative awareness campaign, we can help residents help themselves and their loved ones suffering from addiction," said Danielsen (D-Middlesex/Somerset). "We also can dispel commonly accepted myths and stereotypes of drug addiction and lead people to treatment facilities enabling them to rebuild their lives."

"Curbing the prescription drug and heroin epidemic in this state will require a comprehensive legislative approach, including an addiction awareness and education campaign to help restore hope in our communities," said Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). "Not one group or area can lay claim to having been hit the hardest by this kind of addiction. Many families in New Jersey have been affected by addiction of this kind. It's time to encourage individuals and families to seek the help they desperately need to live drug-free. "

"The opioid epidemic isn't just affecting individuals. It's forcing parents to bury their children and children to grow up as orphans," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "This is a serious problem that requires a more targeted approach than 'Just say no.'"

"Aside from the obvious heartache the opioid epidemic causes families statewide, it also puts a significant strain on health care professionals and the law enforcement community in New Jersey," said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). "This initiative will help people understand the risks associated with abusing opioids and make it easier to identify the signs of drug abuse so that those who need help can get it."

"The notion that addiction starts on the street corner or in some back alley is a myth that we must dispel," said Downey (D-Monmouth). "With these active steps toward educating the public about the danger of opioid abuse and heroin use, New Jersey can save lives."

"Opioid use disorder is destroying communities throughout the state," said Mukherji (D-Hudson). "New Jersey's effort to put a stop to it must be aggressive and multi-faceted."

The bill would require the division to work in consultation with the Governor's Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, and, as appropriate, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, in developing, coordinating, implementing and overseeing the HOPE Initiative.

The HOPE Initiative would provide for the coordinated and widespread public dissemination of individual case stories and other generalized information that is designed to include (but not limited to) the following:

1.) Identify the pathways that can lead to opioid abuse and heroin use, and the reasons opioid abuse may evolve into heroin use;

2.) Show the new face of heroin and opioid addiction, and rebut the commonly accepted myths and stereotypes about heroin users and opioid abusers;

3.) Condemn and stigmatize the abuse and diversion of prescription opioid drugs, while recognizing the legitimate use of the same opioid drugs as medication;

4.) Describe the effects and warning signs of heroin use and opioid abuse, so as to better enable members of the public to determine when help is needed.

The information to be provided through the HOPE Initiative would be disseminated using every available type of media.

The bill, which received unanimous Assembly approval, now awaits Senate consideration.