Chris Christie Tackles Drug Crisis ‘Ravaging the State and Our People’

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie said on Tuesday that he would focus in his final year in office on New Jersey’s drug epidemic, including promising to limit the supply of opioid drugs that doctors could initially prescribe and seeking legislation to require insurers to pay for at least six months of drug treatment.

Mr. Christie, a Republican, turned the majority of his seventh State of the State address, usually an hourlong speech about the governor’s priorities, into an impassioned speech laying out his plans to tackle a drug crisis that is claiming hundreds of lives a year in the state.

“I will not have the blood of addicted New Jerseyans on my hands because we waited to act,” Mr. Christie said. “I will not willingly watch another 1,600 of our citizens die and watch their families mourn and suffer.”

Nearly 1,600 people in New Jersey died from drug overdoses in 2015, an increase of about 20 percent over 2014, according to data from the state medical examiner’s office. Most of those came from opioids, including heroin and fentanyl.

Democratic leaders applauded Mr. Christie’s focus on drug treatment, but also said that there were other major issues that state lawmakers and Mr. Christie needed to deal with, including school funding.

“If you closed your eyes, you would think you were hearing a Democrat giving a speech,” said Senator Stephen M. Sweeney, a Democrat and president of the State Senate. “We welcome this conversation on addiction. We need conversations on a whole host of other issues.”

Mr. Christie has focused much of his time in office on the issue of drug addiction, and also made addressing the opioid epidemic a key plank in his unsuccessful presidential campaign. While in office, he has expanded drug courts, the use of the overdose-prevention drug naloxone and a prescription-monitoring program.

Among Mr. Christie’s policy proposals outlined Tuesday:

■ He said that he was having his attorney general put together regulations to require that doctors initially prescribe only a five-day supply of opioid drugs for acute pain. A handful of states, including Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine, have enacted similar restrictions in the past year.

■ He said that he was changing rules so 18- and 19-year-olds could be considered children to cut down on waiting lists for treatment beds.

■ He called on state lawmakers to approve a change to require insurers to pay for at least six months of drug treatment.

■ He said that the state would put together a school curriculum to teach children, starting in kindergarten, about avoiding opioid abuse.

■ He also announced a new phone and online helpline at reachnj.gov and 1-844-ReachNJ.

Mr. Christie also told the story of a state worker who attended a candlelight vigil last month to mark her son’s 10½ months of sobriety. Two days later, the 23-year-old man was found dead of an overdose in the car of his mother, Pam Garozzo, Mr. Christie said.

“This is the face of the epidemic of addiction that is ravaging the state and our people,” Mr. Christie said after introducing Ms. Garozzo and her husband to a standing ovation.

The speech comes as President-elect Donald J. Trump finishes filling out his administration without a spot for Mr. Christie, one of the first major Republicans to endorse him after he ended his own presidential campaign. The governor said he always planned to serve out his full term, which ends in 2018. The speech also comes as the race to succeed Mr. Christie is beginning, and as his job approval ratings have fallen to record lows.

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