- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey’s Democrat-led Legislature on Monday advanced bills sought by Republican Gov. Chris Christie to address the state’s opioid epidemic.

Assembly and Senate committees approved legislation to require that health insurers regulated by the state cover inpatient and outpatient treatment for opioid addiction for up to six months.

“We can save lives by removing the barriers to treatment that exist today,” Democratic state Sen. Joseph Vitale said.

The bills also would limit initial opioid prescriptions to a five-day supply. That wouldn’t apply to cancer and chronic pain patients and for end-of-life care. The legislation also calls for continuing education for professionals who prescribe drugs.

Christie called for the measures during his State of the State address as part of a broader focus on the epidemic. Nearly 1,600 people died from opioids in 2015 in New Jersey.

Christie, whose job approval is at record lows, said he is devoting his final year in office to the drug crisis. Earlier this month, he declared opioid drugs to be a public health crisis. The executive order also created an eight-member task force to develop a comprehensive strategy.

He has gotten broad support from lawmakers, particularly the Democrats who control the Legislature.

“We are committed to working together with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle, in both houses and in all branches of government because this is an issue that has touched the lives of nearly every New Jerseyan,” Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said.

A message seeking comment from Christie’s office has not been returned.

The Medical Society of New Jersey supports the insurance mandate part of the legislation, but questions the five-day limit on opioid prescriptions, said Mishael Azam, the group’s chief operating officer.

Azam said the group is pushing for a seven-day limit and more exemptions.

Doctors already are changing their habits and prescribing less opioid drugs, she said.

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