Just last week, the House of Representatives passed the Alternative to Opioids law, designed to empower hospitals and other medical providers with information and tools to minimize the number of opioid drugs prescribed.

Created by U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell, Jr., who hails from New Jersey, the Alternatives to Opioids (ALTO) Emergency Department Act meant to stem the flow of addictive drugs used regularly (and often, unnecessarily) in patient care in ERs across the country. The program is modeled on a hospital initiative initially pioneered at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey.

The law relies on preventative measures to tackle the opioid crisis by prescribing alternative treatment or shorter-course treatments in the emergency room, where often the most significant amount of opioids are prescribed to first-time users. The legislation would establish a program relies on testing alternative pain management protocols to limit the use of opioids in emergency departments. For example, many people who end up in the ER may have acute injuries and pain, such as a slipped disk in the back. However, because a slipped disc involves nerve pain, non-addictive drugs such as Gabapentin, use of nerve blocks, and other treatments that prove effective.

The alternatives to opioids law will grant funding to build these programs, and after a three-month trial, the Secretary of Health and Human Services will submit a report to Congress on the results of the program. They will then issue recommendations for broader implementation.

St. Joseph’s University Medical Center in Paterson pioneered the use of opioid alternatives to treat pain in its emergency department, an effort that has been nationally recognized. Now the hospital uses alternative prescriptions outside the ER as well – they are used in obstetrics,  dentistry and other medical specialties at the hospital.

The hospital uses nerve blocks, trigger-point injections, lidocaine patches and even nitrous oxide for cases of severe pain rather than turning to opioids. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are also used for acute injuries in combination. These alternatives to opioids are available almost everywhere, with a few exceptions, yet they are not typically the ER’s “go to” drugs.

“I am heartened that the House passed our legislation to combat the catastrophic opioid epidemic that continues to bedevil every city and community in the United States. With strong bipartisan support, our bill will help implement novel, preventative measures that have proven so effective in my hometown in pulling Americans away from opioid dependence,” said Rep. Pascrell. “This is a moment for the team at St. Joseph’s led by Dr. Rosenberg and Kevin Slavin to take a bow. Their brilliant work is one step closer to becoming a model for so many other healthcare providers seeking ways to reduce the massive amounts of unnecessary opioids getting into patients’ hands, and ultimately break the opioid dependence harming their communities. What St. Joe’s helped start in Paterson will soon be saving lives across America.”

“In New Jersey and across our nation, we have seen far too many communities and families torn apart by opioid addiction,” said Sen. Cory Booker, also of New Jersey. “Our legislation is based on the successful practices of a New Jersey hospital that recognized the power of prevention and innovative approaches when it comes to effectively tackling this epidemic.”