TRENTON — Law enforcement officials say a new state database that tracks certain prescriptions will help curb the rising abuse of drugs such as narcotic painkillers.
The monitoring program, authorized under a 2008 state law, has collected details about 4 million prescriptions since last September for controlled dangerous substances and human growth hormone. Two weeks ago, prescribers and pharmacists became eligible to search the database.
Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said the program allows state investigators to look for unusual patterns that merit an investigation, such as doctors prescribing unusual amounts of painkillers or, as happened last November and December, a patient who in the span of five weeks obtained more than 2,500 doses of oxycodone and methadone through 14 visits to three different pharmacies.
“We’ll now find ourselves analyzing this data, taking action, both in terms of criminal investigations which will come out of this and in terms of, don’t forget, health-care providers will now be in position with their own patients to see certain kinds of behavior so they act in a health-care fashion to address these kinds of addictions,” Chiesa said.
“It’s not just about getting criminal action on large-scale distributors, which we will, but it’s also about allowing families who may not have access to that information, because it’s been taken privately and illicitly, to get the treatment that their family members need,” Chiesa said.
Toms River resident Meg Dupont-Parisi, whose 21-year-old son Patrick died of a drug overdose in November after getting addicted to oxycodone while in high school, said the program puts in place “imperative steps” that should be augmented by prevention efforts starting in middle school.
“He suffered mentally, physically, spiritually and socially. We all suffered along with him, his family, his friends and his community,” Dupont-Parisi said. “Prescription drug abuse is not a victimless crime. We have lost so many young lives to this epidemic, along with their talent, their love and potential, gone and never to return.”
In 2010, more than 7,200 people were admitted to state-licensed or certified substance abuse treatment centers for prescription painkiller abuse, up by 230 percent since 2005, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Brian Crowell, the special agent in charge of the New Jersey division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said abuse of prescription drug medications is the nation’s fastest-growing drug problem and that such overdoses on average kill one American every 19 minutes. He said narcotic painkillers are very similar to heroin chemically and directly impact the market for such illegal drugs, as well.
“Economically, the diverted pharmaceutical pills and bags of heroin are vastly different,” Crowell said. “The number of diverted pharmaceutical opiate addicts drives down the heroin prices, and it drives up heroin availability here in New Jersey.”
Michael Symons: 609-984-4336; firstname.lastname@example.org