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Lagana Introduces Bill to Combat Rising Tide of Heroin, Prescription Drug Abuse Throughout New Jersey

(TRENTON) — Assemblyman Joseph Lagana on Thursday announced he has introduced legislation designed to combat the rising tide of heroin and prescription drug abuse throughout New Jersey.

The bill (A-3062) would implement recommendations from the State Commission of Investigation’s (SCI) July 2013 report, entitled “Scenes from an Epidemic: A Report on the SCI’s Investigation of Prescription Pill and Heroin Abuse.” The report included testimony from law enforcement officials, drug addicts, members of street gangs and physicians who operated so-called pill mills, where prescription drugs could be obtained under the guise of seemingly legitimate medical practices. The mills often have ties to organized crime, the report stated.

“This problem is wide-ranging and our laws are not stringent enough to combat it,” Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic) said. “We need to do more to ensure we’re equipped to deal with this epidemic, before too many are lost. This is both the moral and responsible thing to do.”

Lagana noted the epidemic has touched on medical professionals, created scores of addicts and even attracted the tentacles of criminal organizations.

“The illegal trafficking and abuse of prescription painkillers and other addictive narcotics poses a threat to our well-being as a state, and these thoughtful recommendations are a major step toward overcoming it,” Lagana said. “Too many futures have already been lost. Let’s do the right thing.”

The wide-ranging bill would:

  • Require pharmacies to submit information on dispensed prescriptions at least once each business day, or according to a schedule to be determined by the Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs if federal law, regulation or funding eligibility otherwise requires. Pharmacies are currently required by the Division of Consumer Affairs to report once each 15 days;
  • Require health care practitioners who prescribe, and pharmacists who dispense, Schedule II drugs to check the information available through the prescription monitoring program prior to prescribing in order to determine if the patient has received other prescriptions that indicate prescription abuse or diversion;
  • Provide that, in addition to any other penalty provided by law, a health care professional who engages in improper prescribing is liable to a civil penalty of not less than $10,000 for the first violation and not less than $20,000 for the second and each subsequent violation. Current law provides a maximum fine of $10,000 for the first violation and $20,000 for a second or subsequent violation;
  • Specify that any prescription and any refill of a prescription is each to be counted as a separate instance of improper prescribing;
  • Provide law enforcement agencies greater access to prescription monitoring information;
  • Grant the Division of Consumer Affairs authority to gather information on any significant business relationships involving the medical practice of a licensee of the State Board of Medical Examiners;
  • Direct the State Board of Medical Examiners to adopt regulations setting forth clear standards for the use of prescription drugs in pain management. This section would require that the standards emphasize the primary goal of ensuring that suffering patients find relief, and also consider the need to protect the public health and safety by limiting access to controlled dangerous substances. In developing the standards, the State Board of Medical Examiners would be required to consider the provisions of the model policy established by the Federation of State Medical Boards;
  • Require that New Jersey Prescription Blanks incorporate additional security features to prevent erasure or duplication of prescription blanks that can be accomplished with widely available computer technology. It is expected that this provision would encourage the adoption of regulations similar or identical to those proposed by the Division of Consumer Affairs in November 2012. This section also would require the Division of Consumer Affairs to limit the number of vendors as necessary to ensure that vendors are appropriately monitored to ensure that prescription blanks are delivered only to intended prescribers and health care facilities; and
  • Make it a crime of the third degree to knowingly design, build, construct or fabricate a motor vehicle equipped with a hidden compartment to be used to unlawfully conceal a controlled dangerous substance, or to alter a motor vehicle to add such a hidden compartment. This section also would make it a crime of the fourth degree to operate or possess a vehicle with a hidden compartment.

“This legislation would expand on current law in several areas to strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to combat illicit drug distribution and drug use, increase civil penalties related to prescription drug abuse and most importantly impose much needed updates to the controls over access to dangerous prescription drugs,” said Lagana. “No one and no place in New Jersey is immune from the increasing abuse, whether it be a city or a suburb, we need to do more to stem this tide or we risk our state’s future. These common sense ideas should go a long way toward combating this scourge.”