- Associated Press - Monday, August 8, 2016

LIVINGSTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey’s two U.S. senators have joined forces with the nation’s top medical official in an effort to combat opioid addiction and related problems.

Democrats Cory Booker and Bob Menendez joined U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in a panel discussion Monday at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston. They spoke before a crowd of more than 300 doctors, treatment providers and health advocates.

The lawmakers said more funding is needed to provide treatment for people looking to kick their addictions. They said it was short-sighted and financially irresponsible to deal with addiction solely after it becomes a problem.

Heroin deaths have risen by 160 percent in New Jersey since 2010. Last year, more than 1,200 overdose-related deaths were reported in New Jersey and more than 28,000 people in the state sought treatment for heroin and opioid abuse. In five counties - Camden, Cape May, Middlesex, Ocean and Union - the heroin death rate exceeded the number of treatment beds available.

“These are not just statistics, they are people we know,” Booker said. “Addiction knows no race, class or religion. It’s ubiquitous.”

Murthy called on doctors to improve their prescribing practices to reduce the supply of misused opioids, along with training that would allow doctors to better diagnose substance abuse disorders. He said a letter would also soon be sent out to 2.3 million health care practitioners asking them to join the fight against the opioid crisis, something never before done by the surgeon general.

“I believe this crisis demands it,” Murthy said. “I believe clinicians need to be a part of the solution.”

Menendez expressed frustration at the lack of funding the state and nation receive to fight the opioid crisis and create more treatment centers.

“When you have an emergency, you respond to the emergency,” Menendez said. “I don’t understand how Congress can’t come around to funding a national emergency.”

When asked if he thought Congress was doing enough to help the situation, Booker said: “I think the technical term would be ‘hell no.’ For anyone in our delegation to stand against funding, that’s unacceptable.”

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