By Adrianna Pitrelli
INDIANAPOLIS — As a presidential candidate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie walked into an event in New Hampshire where he met a family whose story would later make a difference for thousands of Americans nationwide.
“They came to tell me they were touched by a video I put out against opioids and that they had lost their son 10 days ago from a heroin overdose,” Christie said. “They told me when they got to the emergency room to retrieve his body the doctor waiting for them said, ‘I feel so bad, I reversed him six other times, but the seventh time he got here too late.’”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaking at the attorney general’s annual symposium on drug abuse. Photo by Makenna Mays, TheStatehouseFile.com
Christie, chairman of the president’s commission on combatting drug addiction of the opioid crisis, gave a speech to more than 1,000 clinicians, law enforcement and state leaders in Indianapolis Monday as part of the Indiana attorney general’s annual symposium on drug abuse and heroin.
The couple didn’t know their son was addicted to opioids because laws prohibited medical information from being released. Had they known, they might have been able to save his life, Christie said.
The couple’s story was why Christie recommended to the president a change to the rules so when someone is struggling with opioid addiction, their family is made aware.
“You don’t have the right to kill yourself in privacy,” Christie said.
As governor of New Jersey, he created a mandatory drug court to treat offenders and has been an advocate for increased funding for drugs to help with overdoses and create limits on opioid prescriptions. The opioid problem that kills 175 Americans a day is something Christie said he wants to tackle head on.
A portion of the crowd gathered to listen to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speak at the attorney general’s annual symposium on drug abuse.
Photo by Makenna Mays, TheStatehouseFile.com
“If 175 Americans were being killed on our soil each and everyday by a terrorist organization, how much would we pay to make it stop?” Christie asked. “If we committed a fraction to this fight that we do to fight the terrorist, the numbers would be down significantly.”
Christie said the opioid problem is worse than terrorism because people are dying every day with the assistance of others, like doctors. He said the deaths are equivalent to the deaths on 9/11 happening every two-and-a-half weeks.
“We consume 85 percent of all opioids consumed in the world — 85 percent,” Christie said. “Unlike other drug problems in the past that started on American street corners, this epidemic started in our doctor offices.”
In 2016 alone, 260 million opioid prescriptions were written — enough for every adult American to have a 30-day supply at opioids.
The opioid problem, Christie said, was started by doctors, hospitals and every day people and the problem will never be fixed unless Americans stop being embarrassed.
“There are no marches because many people feel like if they were going to march they would have to wear a mask so they wouldn’t be seen and wouldn’t have to acknowledge this,” Christie said. “But addiction is a disease and it needs to be talked about.”
Four out of every five new heroin addicts start on prescription opioids they get from the doctors office legally, the New Jersey governor told the crowd.
“They started this because they were instructed to do so on a label on the outside of a pill bottle,” Christie said. “They didn’t know when they first started taking it that they wouldn’t be able to stop.”
And doctors didn’t know either. He said people are given licenses but are not educated on opioids and substance abuse. Implementing yearly education on opioids is a step Christie would like to see prescribers take nationwide.
Narcan, which is used in emergencies to reverse an overdose, is another way Christie said fewer people will die each year.
“Every police officer, fire fighter and EMT is now armed with Narcan every minute of everyday when they’re on duty or off duty,” he said. “No one can get in recovery from a coffin.”
While Christie acknowledged Narcan is a temporary fix that prevents death, it also gives the person one more chance for them to turn their life around. That is a reason Christie wanted to see every law enforcement officer in America to carry Narcan just as often as they carry their gun.
To fix the issue, Christie hopes to see companies make non-opioid medications and pain killers so people can still get the help they need without becoming addicted. He also would like to see fewer pills be prescribed at a time. In New Jersey, opioid prescriptions cannot be given longer than five days, which creates less chance for someone to get addicted. But in Indiana, people are often given 30 days of opioids in a prescription, which can lead to addiction.
The opioid problem affects Americans from every walk of life, Christie said, and the way to start the change is by having a conversation and being an activist.
“Every life is precious,” Christie said. “No life is beyond salvation and everyone deserves a second chance, so let’s give them that chance.”
Adrianna Pitrelli is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism student.