New Jersey has added opioid addiction to the list of illnesses eligible for medical marijuana as part of a push to combat the state’s drug crisis.
Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, announced the change Wednesday at Cooper University Hospital in Camden alongside Cabinet members and took the rare step of crediting his Republican predecessor, Chris Christie, for his work fighting the epidemic.
Christie pushed a number of bills before leaving office last year, including one that limited initial opioid prescriptions to a five-day supply. He was a marijuana skeptic, though, and never vocally embraced the medical marijuana program that Murphy has expanded.
The announcement comes as the state reports that about 3,100 people died of drug overdoses in the state in 2018, up about 15 percent from 2017.
"The opioid epidemic continues to devastate families and communities across our state," Murphy said.
The addition of opioid addiction to the state’s medical marijuana program mirrors what other states, including neighboring New York and Pennsylvania, have done.
Murphy also said the state would be removing a requirement that makes it harder for people on Medicaid to get treatments involving medication for opioid addiction. He said the state is doing away with the so-called Medicaid prior-authorization requirement to remove a barrier for treatment that many addiction victims face.
He also said Medicaid would build opioid treatment centers at Cooper and at Rutgers' New Jersey Medical School in Newark.
The state's current fiscal year budget sets aside $100 million for the opioid crisis, Murphy said.
The expansion of the medical marijuana program is the latest under Murphy, who said last year that the number of patients in the program doubled on his watch to 34,000.
Murphy added anxiety, migraines, Tourette syndrome, and two types of chronic pain to the list of covered conditions last year.