New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said it’s past time for the U.S. to deal with the opioid epidemic.
Christie, who chairs the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, spoke Monday at the Indiana attorney general’s Prescription Drug Abuse Symposium in Indianapolis.
Christie’s speech covered a range of topics, from medical education to marijuana legalization to patient privacy laws. But he turned repeatedly to the subject of stigma against those addicted to drugs. He said stigma is responsible for apathy toward the opioid epidemic, and that it needs to end.
“Four out of every five heroin addicts in America today start on prescription opioids that they received legally from a physician,” he said. “You can’t stigmatize that person.”
Christie pointed out overdoses are now the number one cause of accidental death for Americans under 50. He said 175 people die each day and more resources should be devoted to the crisis.
“If 175 Americans were being killed on our soil each and every day by a terrorist organization, how much would we spend to make it stop?” Christie asked.
Christie said if the U.S. spent a fraction of what it spends on fighting terrorism on the drug epidemic, it could significantly reduce overdose deaths.
“Yet, somehow people believe that this is not the same type of noble cause,” he said.
Much of Christie’s speech highlighted initiatives outlined in the commission’s interim report, which was released in July. Christie called upon the pharmaceutical industry — largely blamed for the opioid epidemic — to develop non-opioid alternatives for pain and medications that can aid in recovery from addiction.
“The pharmaceutical companies either have to do it voluntarily, or we must drag them to the party,” he said.
Christie also promoted the use of naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote, which is often criticized as a temporary fix.
“Nobody can get into recovery from a coffin,” he said, adding law enforcement officers should carry naloxone just as they carry guns.
The commission’s final report is due later this week.
This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a reporting collaborative focused on public health