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Gov. Chris Christie passed one of the most aggressive laws to combat the opioid epidemic

And President Trump is tapping him to lead a commission on the epidemic.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a strong proponent of opioid reform, called for sweeping legislation in his State of the State address on January 10, 2017.
Mel Evans/AP

President Trump will soon sign an executive order that creates a commission to tackle the opioid epidemic and has reportedly put New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in charge of it.

Christie is a strong choice, given that just this February, he signed into law one of the nation’s most comprehensive laws to combat the growing opioid and heroin crisis.

New Jersey’s law reduces the supply of drugs that patients getting their first opioid prescription can obtain from 30 days to five days, which as research has shown plays a huge role in whether a person gets hooked. It also will require doctors to talk to patients about how addictive the drugs are. For addicts whose doctors have recommended treatment, the law also mandates that insurers offer 180 days of coverage without preauthorization.

“We’re starting to treat substance abuse like the chronic disease that it is,” Cynthia Reilly, the director of Pew Charitable Trusts' substance use prevention and treatment program, said of New Jersey’s law. “We don’t treat someone for diabetes for a few weeks and then expect them to be cured and stop treatment.”

New Jersey’s legislation is part of a larger national trend of states getting tougher on opioid prescriptions

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that since 1999, 165,000 people have died from overdoses linked to prescription opioid abuse and that as many as 40 Americans die each day.

And since much of the problem is due to too many opioids being prescribed and sold, the agency issued a set of guidelines last March that recommended prescribers limit initial opioid prescriptions to seven days or less. Massachusetts became the first state to enact the CDC’s guidelines, passing a law that restricted opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply.

Eight other states in the Northeast (including New Jersey) have followed suit and passed their own legislation, as you can see in the map below. In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) mandated a seven-day restriction on opioid prescriptions through executive order.

Map showing which states have passed legislation to limit opioid prescriptions to 7 days or less.

Normally, public health is politically polarizing. But Republicans and Democrats are united on curtailing opioid abuse.

Of the 10 states with prescription limits, six are led by a Republican governor and four by a Democratic governor. What’s more, in a state like Massachusetts, where the governor is Republican and the state legislature is majority Democrat, they achieved not just consensus but unanimous consensus.

This kind of widespread bipartisanship support isn’t a given in public health. But the opioid problem has emerged as one of the very few health issues members of both parties are rallying around these days.

In early 2014, researchers polled US adults on their thoughts about opioid abuse. They wanted to know if Americans thought it was a serious issue and which, if any, policy solutions they supported to combat it.

Chart showing that Republicans and Democrats are equally likely to know someone addicted to opioids

It turned out that Americans on both sides of the political aisle thought opioid abuse was a serious problem, and of 16 possible policy solutions — ranging from stricter regulation of pharmaceutical companies to expanded Medicaid benefits — there was bipartisan support for all but two proposals.

The reason? People from both parties are equally likely to have known someone who has abused prescription painkillers.

Map showing substance use deaths and mental health deaths in the US in 2014

The sobering reality, according to Robert Blendon, a professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health who has studied public opinion around opioids, is that the opioid epidemic is so widespread in the US that it cuts across demographics, class divisions, and even political parties.

And even though certain areas of the country are harder hit than others (as you can see in the map above), researchers found that Democrats and Republicans are equally likely to consider opioid addiction to be a serious problem in their state.

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