Measures were among recommendations cited in State Commission of Investigation report detailing rise in prescription pill and heroin abuse throughout state
(TRENTON) – Following a startling state report detailing the rise of prescription drug and heroin abuse in New Jersey and the systematic operations of those who supply it, Assemblywoman Marlene Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic) has introduced a two-bill legislative package that would help curtail these illegal drug operations and the epidemic use of these deadly drugs by better regulating pre-paid cell phones commonly used by drug dealers, and creating a task force solely responsible with identifying, investigating and prosecuting the illegal sources and distribution of prescription pills.
The bills are based on two of several recommendations made by the State Commission of Investigation (SCI) to fight this growing problem in its report, “Scenes from an Epidemic: A Report on the SCI’s Investigation of Prescription Pill and Heroin Abuse.” The report was the result of a two-year SCI investigation examining who are the entities profiting off the rise in prescription painkiller addictions in New Jersey, and how addicts transitioned into the cheaper, but more potent heroin.
“This report detailed a carefully orchestrated operation involving doctors, street gangs and organized crime which has helped propel the use of prescription pills and heroin through every corner of the state,” said Caride. “These drugs are making addicts of young people – adolescents, teenagers and twenty-somethings – who instead of planning for the future, risk becoming completely consumed by addiction. It’s not just lives damaged and lost, but other criminal activity that stems from it. We know this is a grave problem in New Jersey. As long as there is money to be made, these criminal organizations will not stop. It is critical that we take action and provide law enforcement with the additional resources needed to attack the root sources before it becomes completely unmanageable.”
The first bill (A-4390) supplements the consumer fraud act to make it unlawful for any prepaid wireless telephone service provider or wireless telephone service provider to sell or activate prepaid wireless telephone service, prepaid wireless telephone equipment, wireless telephone service or wireless telephone equipment to an individual without first recording the following information:
- a photocopy of the individual’s driver’s license or non-driver identification card;
- the telephone number assigned to the prepaid wireless telephone service, prepaid wireless telephone equipment, wireless telephone service or prepaid wireless telephone equipment;
- the serial number assigned to the prepaid wireless telephone equipment or the wireless telephone equipment;
- the date of sale; and any other information as required by the Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs in the department of Law and Public Safety.
“They may seem inconspicuous, but pre-paid cell phones are powerful tools in a drug dealer’s arsenal. No I.D. is required when buying these phones, they are usually bought with cash and are discarded once the minutes are used up, leaving no trail behind,” said Caride. “This makes the work of law enforcement that much tougher. We know these phones are being used for illegal purposes because of the anonymity they provide. This bill would make them a less convenient tool for criminals by requiring certain information at the time of purchase, including the buyer’s identification.”
Under the bill, a provider must retain all recorded information for a period of two years after the date of purchase of such service for equipment. After the two-year period, the provider must destroy or arrange for the destruction of the photocopy of the individual’s driver’s license or non-driver identification card by shredding, erasing, or otherwise modifying the personal information in those records to make it unreadable, undecipherable or nonreconstructable.
A violation of any provision of this bill would be an unlawful practice under the consumer fraud act, and any person who violates the provisions would be liable to a penalty of not more than $10,000 for the first offense, and not more than $20,000 for the second and each subsequent offense.
The second bill (A-4393) requires the Attorney General to establish a Statewide Opioid Law Enforcement Coordinating Task Force within the Department of Law and Public Safety.
The purpose of the bill is to strengthen federal, state, county and local law enforcement efforts relating to opioid drugs. Although federal, state, county and local law enforcement resources currently exist to appropriately investigate these cases, coordination of those resources is not always effective in combating drug diversion.
The task force would be charged with: identifying, investigating and prosecuting the illegal sources and distribution of prescription opioid drugs; and providing training for law enforcement officials, physicians, pharmacists and other health care professionals in state-of-the-art methods to detect prescription drug diversion and related abuses.
The task force would consist of: the first Assistant Attorney General, who would serve as chair; the director of the Division of Consumer Affairs; the director of the Division of Criminal Justice; the director of the New Jersey State Board of Pharmacy; the director of the State Board of Medical Examiners; the director of the New Jersey State Board of Dentistry or their designated representatives; at least one representative each from county prosecutors’, sheriffs’ and local law enforcement agencies; and any representatives of federal law enforcement agencies that are available and are invited by the Attorney General to serve on the task force.
“This is affecting all communities in New Jersey, and our young people in particular. More and more people are seeking treatment for opium-based painkiller addictions, and police say heroin use and overdose deaths are increasing dramatically,” said Caride. “This is a crisis. A concentrated effort is needed if law enforcement agencies are going to make a dent. This task force would provide that.”
The task force would have to report at least quarterly to the Attorney General on its activities, and include in that report any recommendations that it deems necessary to fulfill its purposes.