Opioid Painkillers Are in Medicine Chests Across NJ

Prescribing Highest in South Jersey and State Residents Want State Government to Address Opioid Addiction

Prescription opioid painkillers are in medicine chests of about one-in-three households in the Garden State.

This statistic cuts across every demographic group. Thirty-one percent of NJ adults say they or a family member living with them have been prescribed an opioid in the past year.

This is according to the most recent New Jersey Health and Well-Being Poll, conducted by Rutgers Center for State Health Policy from October 12 to November 19, 2017, with a random sample of 1,052 adults.

Moreover, among those with an opioid prescription in the last year, more than one-in-three admit that they plan to keep leftover painkillers in case they are “needed in the future.” Overall, that amounts to over one-in-ten of the 3.1 million households in the state.

“Opioid pain drugs are prescribed extremely widely in New Jersey, and many families hold on to the drugs after their prescribed use,” according to Joel Cantor, lead poll investigator and Rutgers distinguished professor of public policy. “This estimate may well understate the share of families holding on to opioids, as many people know they are not supposed to keep leftover drugs and may be reticent to admit it to telephone interviewers.”

“We found that opioids are widely prescribed across all demographic groups,” Cantor continues. Notably, according to the poll, opioid prescriptions and intent to keep leftovers are not lower in families with children.

Rutgers Today reported, “The commonplace nature of prescription opioids puts many thousands in New Jersey at risk of abuse, addiction or worse,” Cantor said.

He added that the results may not capture the full extent of the problem. Only 1.5 percent say they or a family member living with them suffer from addiction to prescription pain relievers or heroin, while nearly 6 percent of poll respondents reported seeking opioid addiction treatment for themselves or a household member in the past year.

“This estimate may well understate the share of families holding on to opioids, as many people know they are not supposed to keep leftover drugs and may be reticent to admit it to telephone interviewers,” he said.

The Center for Disease Control reports that about 1,500 New Jersey residents died from overdoses of legal or illegal opioids in 2015, the most recent data available from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“And the problem is growing: The state’s age-adjusted opioid death rate rose 16.4 percent between 2014 and 2015, Cantor said.”

The demand for treatment is increasing. “About one in five of respondents who reported seeking treatment for addiction said that finding services is “somewhat” or “very” hard.”

“High rates of opioid prescribing shown in the poll and the worsening addiction epidemic are likely to make finding treatment harder over time,” according to Cantor. “Addressing barriers to treatment, including increasing the supply of outpatient and inpatient drug treatment, is likely to be needed.”

New Jersey residents want the government to act to address the growing opioid crisis.

“Three-fourths of poll respondents say it is “extremely” (35 percent) or “very” (40 percent) important for the new governor and legislature to address the problem of drug addiction in New Jersey.”

“The view that the incoming governor and legislature should act is consistent across nearly every demographic group and across all regions of the state,” Cantor said.

This data is the first in a series of findings from the poll conducted by the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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