NJ AG Announces Reorganized Division Will Investigate Prescription Drug Abuse

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NEWARK – Sharpening the state’s focus on the fight to halt prescription drug diversion and abuse, Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa today announced a reorganization and expansion of the Enforcement Bureau within the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs – the body responsible for investigating allegations of professional misconduct on behalf of the 47 professional licensing boards, including the Board of Medical Examiners and Board of Pharmacy, that regulate 500,000 licensed and registered professionals across New Jersey.

“The New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program is just one component in the Division’s comprehensive, statewide plan to fight the diversion and abuse of prescription drugs,” Chiesa said, referring to the recently-launched program that is currently monitoring the dispensing of controlled dangerous substances by New Jersey pharmacies. “The next step is to deploy skilled and experienced investigators to analyze the data, and to develop other available methods to identify the unlawful distribution and diversion of prescription medications. This reorganization and expansion will provide us the infrastructure to take on these new challenges.”

Pursuant to the reorganization and expansion announced today, the Enforcement Bureau will now be comprised of the following three investigative sections, each playing a key role in the Division’s effort to curb prescription drug diversion and abuse:

  • Drug Diversion Section – currently staffed by seven experienced, undercover drug diversion investigators focusing on investigating cases related to the distribution and diversion of prescription drugs; indiscriminate prescribing and dispensing; prescription fraud; and enforcing the bans enacted by the Division of Consumer Affairs on so-called “bath salts” and other designer drugs. The Division plans on adding two new investigators to this section, one of whom was recently hired, bringing the total number of diversion investigators to nine.
  • Pharmacy Inspection Section – currently staffed by nine licensed pharmacists and other investigators with unique expertise in the inspections of pharmacies and examinations of security protocols designed to prevent theft of controlled dangerous substances. The Division plans on adding four more pharmacist/investigators to this section, bringing the total number of pharmacist/investigators to 13.
  • Quality of Healthcare Section – currently staffed by seven registered nurses and other experienced investigators overseeing investigations related to the Board of Medical Examiners and the Board of Nursing, to include matters of drug impairment and self-use by practitioners, and health insurance fraud. The Division plans on adding three new nurse/investigators to this section, one of which was recently hired, bringing the total number of nurse/investigators to 10.

Additionally, the Enforcement Bureau is comprised of the following two investigative sections, the investigators in each being available for cross-designation as needed to supplement the Division’s efforts to combat prescription drug diversion:

  • General Investigations Section – staffed by six experienced investigators who conduct investigations and inquiries for all the licensing boards, including investigations into unlicensed practitioners.
  • General Inspections Section – staffed by 14 experienced investigators who mainly inspect licensed facilities such as cosmetology locations, dentistry offices, electrology offices, funeral homes, ophthalmic locations, and optometry offices.

“During 2011, the Enforcement Bureau completed 64 investigations into alleged prescription drug diversion, indiscriminate prescribing, unlawful distribution, and theft of prescription blanks,” Thomas R. Calcagni, Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, said. “The Bureau’s current staff and our new hires include highly-seasoned and skilled investigators, many of whom have indispensible experience as registered nurses or pharmacists. This expansion and comprehensive reorganization of resources reflects our commitment to halting the soaring problem of prescription drug abuse – a nationwide epidemic that’s sending thousands of New Jerseyans into addiction treatment every year, and resulting in multiple deaths throughout the country every day.”

Prescription drug abuse is growing in New Jersey and nationwide:

  • In 2010, New Jersey saw 7,238 admissions to state-licensed or certified substance abuse treatment programs as a result of prescription painkiller abuse. That number represents a striking 230 percent increase from 2005, according to statewide statistics collected by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
  • Every day, 40 Americans die from abusing narcotic prescription painkillers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prescription drug abuse deaths have more than tripled in the past decade and now kill more people in the U.S. than heroin and cocaine combined. Opioid pain medication abuse accounts for the most common poisonings treated in emergency departments and nearly 1 million Americans are currently addicted to some type of opiate – costing insurance companies, according to some reports, upwards of $75.5 million a year.
  • The New Jersey State Commission of Investigation in June 2011 reported that a growing number of young people are abusing prescription drugs, and noted a significant trend in which young people who became addicted to painkillers eventually turned to heroin as a cheaper substitute.

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