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Pascrell Celebrates Passage of Alternatives to Opioids Legislation

Paterson-inspired program now a model for health care providers across America

Today, U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09) celebrated the final passage of H.R. 5197, the Alternatives to Opioids (ALTO) in the Emergency Department Act. Pascrell is the primary House sponsor of the legislation which is modeled on an innovative program that reduces the use of opioids, pioneered at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey. Sens. Booker and Menendez are the sponsors of the companion Senate bill, expected to be voted in the Senate in the coming weeks.

“This is a potentially great moment in our national struggle against opioids, and a proud day for Paterson, New Jersey,” said Rep. Pascrell. “After it is soon signed into law, our ALTO legislation will provide a new preventative blueprint for hospitals and healthcare providers across America as they grapple with ways to combat the opioid epidemic and break the cycles of dependence that rack every community in our nation. This legislation is bipartisan, progressive, and forward-looking – an illustration of Congress at work. What St. Joseph’s Medical Center built in Paterson will soon be saving lives across America.”

“Developing alternative pain treatments that are less-addictive than opioids has been an issue we’ve been working on for several years,” said Rep. David McKinley, the original Republican co-sponsor of the ALTO House legislation. “We know this model works and will reduce the number of patients who become addicted. The passage of the ALTO bill is a common-sense step to fight the opioid epidemic and expand this program nationwide.”

“Passage of this bill is an incredible opportunity to share our successful ALTO® model with hospitals across the country,” said Kevin J. Slavin, President & CEO of St. Joseph’s Health. “We are proud that St. Joseph’s has provided a blueprint for combatting the opioid epidemic.”

"Sharing proven strategies and solutions is one of the most effective ways to address the opioid crisis from the healthcare delivery side,” said Mark Rosenberg, DO, Chairman of Emergency Medicine and Chief Innovation Officer at St. Joseph’s Health. “Our ALTO protocols and principles provide tangible options for Emergency Departments to aggressively manage acute pain without the heavy reliance on opioids. The passage of the ALTO Act is a giant step forward in combatting the opioid epidemic. Lives will be saved.”

“The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) applauds the House of Representatives on the bipartisan passage of the “Alternatives to Opioids (ALTO) in the Emergency Department Act,” included as part of Congress’ comprehensive opioid legislation,” said Paul Kivela, MD, FACEP, President of the American College of Emergency Physicians. “Based upon the success of the ALTO program established by ACEP Board Member Mark Rosenberg, DO, MBA, FACEP, this important legislation will equip more emergency physicians with the tools they need to fight the opioid epidemic, preventing opioid use disorders before they start. ACEP is grateful for the leadership of Representatives Pascrell and McKinley and their tireless efforts to ensure that more Americans have access to the appropriate care they need and deserve.”

The Alternatives to Opioids in the Emergency Department Act promotes preventative measures to tackle the opioid crisis. The legislation will establish a demonstration program to test alternative pain management protocols to limit the use of opioids in emergency departments, and other acute care settings. The legislation provides grant funding to build these programs.

After years of ravaging communities across America, the opioid epidemic is showing no signs of abating. Of the 42,000 Americans who died in 2016 from opioids, 2,221 were New Jerseyans. The New Jersey Attorney General's Office estimates that drug deaths in the state could eclipse 3,000 this year, attributable almost entirely to opioids. Forty percent of all opioid deaths involved a prescription opioid. There are over 200 million opioid prescriptions written in the United States each year.

recent report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found a startling 30 percent jump in emergency room visits for opioid overdoses from 2016 to 2017. The report noted that abuse is affecting all age groups and is present in all geographic regions in the nation, with the acting head of the CDC saying the epidemic is getting ‘worse.’ As a first line of defense for combatting the opioid epidemic, Emergency Departments are well-positioned to be laboratories of new innovations to combat the crisis.

Eager to try fresh approaches to address the epidemic, St. Joe's team, led by its director of emergency medicine, Dr. Mark Rosenberg, and hospital CEO, Kevin Slavin, created the Alternatives to Opioids, or ALTO, program. ALTO utilizes non-opioid protocols instead of painkiller prescriptions to treat common conditions that involve acute pain. In only two years, the St. Joseph’s ALTO program has decreased emergency department opioid prescriptions by more than 80 percent. The model has been so successful that St. Joseph’s has expanded the protocol to other departments within the hospital, and Dr. Rosenberg has travelled the country helping other health systems get ALTO up and running. With today’s passage of the ALTO Act, St. Joseph’s model will be able to expand even further, and save lives by preventing countless unnecessary opioids from ever getting into patients’ hands.

H.R. 5197 is sponsored by Reps. Pascrell, McKinley, Diana DeGette (D-CO-01), and Scott R. Tipton (R-CO-03), along with 21 additional bipartisan cosponsors.

Companion legislation in the Senate, S. 2516, is sponsored by Sens. Booker, Menendez, Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Michael F. Bennet (D-CO), and Cory Gardner (R-CO). 

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