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State lawmaker hopes drug bill stems heroin, prescription drug abuse in NJ

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

SHOUT OUT: A freshman lawmaker from Paramus says he hopes legislation he is co-sponsoring will help fight heroin and prescription pill abuse in New Jersey.

Under the measure co-sponsored by Assemblyman Joseph Lagana, doctors and pharmacists both will have to review a patient’s full history of drug use before prescribing or dispensing medications.

Pharmacies also would have to submit information on dispensed prescriptions at least once each business day, or according to a schedule determined by the director of the state Division of Consumer Affairs.

Those in the industry who illegally prescribe medications would be subject to a $10,000 minimum fine for the first violation and at least $20,000 for each after that, under the proposed bill.

The measure isn’t limited to medical professionals, however.

It would also make it a crime for anyone to build or use hidden compartments in motor vehicles to stash drugs.

And it would give police great access to prescription monitoring information, allow the Division of Consumer Affairs to gather information on any significant business relationships involving the medical practice of a licensee of the State Board of Medical Examiners and require the board to establish clear standards for the use of prescription drugs in pain management.

Lagana said he has talked to several community service workers, from police to firefighters to EMTs, and “the number of overdoses is staggering.”

The bill would is based on recommendations from a State Commission of Investigation report titled: “Scenes from an Epidemic: A Report on the SCI’s Investigation of Prescription Pill and Heroin Abuse.”

It is one of several law enforcement initiatives that have developed in response to a growing number of deaths from drug abuse. It is also a priority of the state Attorney General and the Bergen and Passaic county prosecutors, who’ve been working together on “heroin interdiction” for the last year in response to an unprecedented number of heroin deaths.

(There were 28 heroin overdose deaths in Bergen County during 2012, more than double that of the prior year.)

As part of the interdiction Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli is working closely with Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia Valdez in prosecuting heroin crimes “up the chain” from user to major distributor.

Uldis Mende of Mahwah, 22, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in state prison last month after taking a friend who later died of an overdose to Paterson to buy heroin.

Three other drug-induced homicide cases are pending in Bergen County courts:

Eric Carter, Kaleif F. Easton and Timothy Volpe are all charged in the overdoes death of Brendan Cole in Allendale in January;

Darius Ghahary of Upper Saddle River and his daughter, Alynn, are charged in the death of Daniel Latjerman of Ramsey last February;

Christopher Benvenuto and Jesse are charged in the death of Doreen Leach of Emerson last June.

Lagana’s bill was released from the Assembly Judiciary Committee last week and now goes before the Appropriations Committee.

Co-sponsors are Assembly members Marlene Cariddi of Ridgefield, Jack McKeon of West Orange, and Vincent Mazzeo of Northfield.

Lagana is working with state Sen. Loretta Weinberg of Teaneck to move the bill on her side of the house.

STORY: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

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