By John Celock
New Jersey is now the first state in the country to enact legislation to raise public awareness of Parkinson’s Disease, due to legislation signed into law last week by Gov. Chris Christie (R).
A bill signed by Christie enacts a new public education campaign for the state Department of Health, along with new programs educating public employees about Parkinson’s. Christie’s action follows an 18-month lobbying campaign by the New Jersey Chapter of the American Parkinson’s Disease Association and broad based support in the state Legislature.
“The passing of this ground breaking law is the first step. Parkinson’s disease is a life-changing illness whose symptoms are not always easily identifiable,” APDA president and CEO Leslie A. Chambers said in a statement. “APDA looks forward to playing an important role in implementing this law that will educate and inform people of the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s. Through this initiative we can encourage early detection and help those with the disease and their families continue to live a life filled with dignity and optimism.”
Under the new law, which was sponsored by Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Woodbridge) and Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City), the state Health Department would launch a new public awareness campaign regarding Parkinson’s. This campaign would include a new state website about Parkinson’s, including the causes of the illness and how to work with patients. Local health departments around the state would be required to conduct public information campaigns regarding Parkinson’s.
The law would also increase training for public employees in New Jersey, particularly emergency medical personnel, police officers, firefighters and court staffers. Allan Bleich, the president of the APDA’s New Jersey chapter, told the state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee in September that the tremors that comes from Parkinson’s are confused for public drunkenness or drug abuse. Under the training program, public employees would realize that the patient had an illness and could treat the individual accordingly.
In a statement released by ADPA, Vitale, the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee chairman, said that with one in 100 Americans over 60 being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, it is important to raise awareness of the disease. He noted that the public information campaign would likely increase those with symptoms to seek testing and treatment. The sponsors and the ADPA are also noting that the public information campaign would increase public awareness of what a person with Parkinson’s faces.
Bleich told senators in September that he also hoped that a New Jersey state law could also put pressure on the pharmaceutical industry, which is largely based in New Jersey, to put more funding into Parkinson’s research. He said that with most patients being in their 60s and 70s, the scientific community does not put much research into the illness. Bleich, 45, was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s seven years ago, a diagnosis that impacts 10 percent of those with Parkinson’s. Bleich noted in September that the top Parkinson’s drug is the same that was considered the “gold standard” in the 1960s.
New Jersey might not be alone for long in having the Parkinson’s bill. Kansas state Rep.-elect J. Basil Dannebohm (R-Ellinwood), who has early onset Parkinson’s, told The Celock Report that he plans to offer similar legislation when legislators reconvene in Topeka next month. Dannebohm said he would be working with Rep. Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita) on the legislation.
“This is a fantastic advancement in the efforts to expand Parkinson’s research. Parkinson’s affects up to one million people in the U.S. and doctors diagnose as many as 60,000 new cases each year,” Dannebohm told The Celock Report. “It’s imperative that we bring this disease to the forefront and work more aggressively to find a cure. I applaud Governor Christie and the New Jersey state Legislature for their efforts and look forward to visiting with them as Representative Hawkins and I seek to pass similar legislation in Kansas.”
Kansas has taken some steps to advance Parkinson’s policy. Earlier this year, Gov. Sam Brownback (R) signed a proclamation declaring April as Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month. In 2013 and 2014, Kansas lawmakers passed a similar resolution sponsored by Rep. Ron Ryckman Sr. (R-Meade).
Bleich said in a statement that he is pleased to see the bill through to Christie’s signature.
“This long process was truly rewarding and I met some incredible people along the way who were a critical part of bringing this bill to life. As a person living with Parkinson’s, it was humbling to participate in the legislative process that took this bill from an idea to a law,” Bleich said. “I had the privilege of testifying before the New Jersey state Senate and state Assembly on behalf of this bill which was an amazing experience and opportunity. It goes to show that anything is possible if you believe in yourself.”