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Opioid Bill Signed Into Law

Comprehensive bill includes Booker, Menendez, Pascrell-authored provision modeled on successful New Jersey hospital program

October 24, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the bipartisan SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act was signed into law. The comprehensive legislation includes a provision authored by U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) that will help hospitals and emergency departments develop, implement, and study best practices for utilizing alternatives to opioids for pain management.

The provision is from the bipartisan, bicameral Alternatives to Opioids (ALTO) in the Emergency Department Act, based off a model program at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey. U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Michael F. Bennet (D-CO), and Cory Gardner (R-CO) also cosponsored this legislation in the Senate.

“The opioid crisis is destroying families and communities in New Jersey and across our country,” Booker said. “St. Joseph’s Hospital challenged this epidemic head on by pioneering the use of opioid alternatives in emergency rooms. Their innovation and visionary leadership should be applauded and their success in significantly reducing the use of opioids will rightfully now be a model for the country.”

“Too many New Jerseyans have lost their lives to the opioid epidemic, and too many families continue to struggle with the extraordinary challenges posed by addiction,” Menendez said. “I’m proud that within the Opioid Crisis Response Act signed into law today are provisions I authored to help families stay together during the recovery process, as well as measures I championed with Senator Cory Booker and Congressman Pascrell to help more hospitals adopt the innovative approaches pioneered at St. Joe’s to reduce the use of opioids in their emergency rooms.”

“Today’s signing into law of important provisions to fight the opioid epidemic should serve as a beacon of hope for the millions of people across the country suffering from opioid abuse and countless others who are in its path,” Pascrell said. “While this crushing epidemic requires exponentially more work and resources, this legislative package includes important provisions that will help reverse the tide, including the ALTO Act. Our ALTO legislation, modeled off the brainchild created at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey, will allow providers across the country to use alternative means to address common acute pain, while preventing unnecessary opioids from getting into patients’ hands. What St. Joseph’s built in Paterson will soon be saving lives across America.”

“St. Joseph’s University Medical Center is extremely grateful to Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) for successfully navigating the Alternative to Opioids (ALTO) in the Emergency Department Act into law,” Kevin Slavin, President and CEO of Saint Joseph’s Health, said. “In 2016, the three lawmakers visited St. Joseph’s and witnessed the nation’s first-ever approach to successfully managing pain through the use of alternatives to opioids in the emergency department. They dedicated the next two-years to building support among their colleagues for legislation that would spread the program’s success across the country.  Today, the president signed H.R. 6, the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, historic legislation that includes $10 million per year to provide grants to hospitals to implement opioid alternative pain management programs based on the St. Joseph’s model. On behalf of everyone at St Joseph’s, I want to thank Senator Booker and his colleagues for their tireless efforts on our behalf.”


Over 100 people die each day from opioid overdose and forty percent of these deaths involved a prescription opioid.  In New Jersey specifically, it’s estimated that more than eight people die from drug overdoses each day.

As a first line of defense against the opioid epidemic, emergency rooms are well positioned to be laboratories of new innovations and procedures to combat the crisis. At the same time, because of the short-term nature of the care they provide, emergency rooms are often highly susceptible to doctor-shopping.

Eager to try fresh approaches to address this epidemic, emergency departments in several states have developed effective programs that have drastically reduced the use of opioids. St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey created the Alternatives to Opiates (ALTO) program, which decreased emergency department opioid prescriptions by nearly 60 percent in its first year alone.

In 2016, Booker, Menendez, and Pascrell joined hospital officials for the announcement of St. Joseph’s ALTO program, as well as a roundtable discussion with health professionals and advocates to discuss ways to combat the nation’s opioid epidemic.

As part of his ongoing commitment to battling the opioid epidemic, in 2017 Booker convened a roundtable discussion in Ocean County with Brick Township Mayor John Ducey, Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato, health professionals, advocates and New Jerseyans to discuss the heroin and opioid addiction crisis in New Jersey and how the Affordable Care Act has helped expand treatment for individuals battling addiction across our nation.  Following that discussion, Booker was successful in advocating for the expansion of the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA), a federal drug prevention program, to include Ocean County and assist efforts to battle the opioid epidemic.