|NEWARK – Expanding Governor Chris Christie’s efforts to stem the flow of pain pills and other prescription drugs fueling New Jersey’s opioid crisis, Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Division of Consumer Affairs today announced a new web-based portal that will allow pharmacists, medical practitioners, and members of the public to easily report suspected abuse or diversion of controlled substances.
The Suspicious Activity Report (“SAR”) portal, a new feature of the NJ Prescription Monitoring Program (NJPMP), permits individuals to report suspicious activities such as the overprescribing of controlled substances, “doctor shopping” to stockpile drugs, or the circulation of forged or stolen prescriptions.
The SAR portal can be accessed on the Division’s website. Information contained in filed reports will be reviewed for possible administrative and criminal enforcement action.
“As the deadly scourge of addiction continues to claim lives in our state, we’re making it easier than ever for New Jerseyans to fight back,” said Attorney General Porrino. “By taking a few minutes to submit a Suspicious Activity Report online, you could be preventing a fresh supply of habit-forming drugs from hitting the streets and destroying lives.”
It was a tip from an Atlantic County pharmacist that led to last week’s arrest of Essex County internist Dr. Craig Gialanella and 16 alleged drug dealers accused of running an illegal pill ring that distributed tens of thousands of high-dose opioid pain pills.
Gialanella was charged with second-degree distribution of narcotics for allegedly writing the prescriptions that supplied dealers with large quantities of oxycodone and alprazolam, a generic form of Xanax, for sale on the street. Upon his arrest, Gialanella, signed a Consent Order with the State Board of Medical Examiners agreeing to the temporary suspension of his medical license and his registration to prescribe Controlled Dangerous Substances (“CDS”) in the state, pending further action by the Board.
“The sharp eyes and quick actions of this Atlantic County pharmacist helped bring down a drug ring allegedly being supplied by a doctor abusing his prescribing privileges,” said Steve Lee, Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “We’re hoping the new Suspicious Activity Report portal will encourage more individuals to play an active role in preventing deadly drugs from falling into the hands of addicts or dealers.”
The Division began investigating Gialanella in October 2016, when the Atlantic County pharmacist, who has not been identified, reported that numerous local residents were obtaining large quantities of opioids from Gialanella, a Belleville internist whose office is 100 miles away.
The pharmacist noted that Gialanella’s “patients” frequently presented prescriptions for oxycodone that were issued in the same name with a different date of birth, in an apparent attempt to avoid detection by the NJPMP and to avoid limits on permitted quantities of such narcotics.
A subsequent review of the NJPMP revealed that Gialanella had issued and/or authorized to be issued 6,600 CDS prescriptions in large quantities - for a total of 734,000 dosage units - since the beginning of 2015. His patients had filled prescriptions at 500 pharmacies throughout the state, including Atlantic County, according to the Consent Order.
The Division of Consumer Affairs referred the case to the state Division of Criminal Justice which launched a criminal investigation that led to the arrest of Gialanella and the 16 alleged street dealers he was allegedly supplying.
According to the criminal charges, Gialanella charged purported patients $50 to $100 for an “office visit,” which typically lasted just a few minutes and did not involve any type of exam, testing or treatment. Gialanella would write prescriptions for 90 or 180 tablets of oxycodone 30 milligram, and 90 tablets of alprazolam 2 milligram, according to the criminal charges. It is alleged that Gialanella would write from two to as many as five prescriptions for each drug for a single patient every 30 days, frequently leaving the date of birth blank.
The alleged dealers sold the 30 milligram oxycodone tablets, known as “Blues,” for between $18 and $25 per pill. They allegedly sold the alprazolam pills, known as “Zannies,” for $5 each, according to the criminal charges.
The criminal investigation is ongoing, and it is suspected that Dr. Gialanella may have been illegally prescribing oxycodone to individuals in other counties.
The new SAR portal is the latest enhancement to the NJPMP, a centralized data sharing system for healthcare providers and pharmacists in partner states to track prescription sales of narcotic painkillers, and other drugs that often lead to deadly heroin addictions.
Last month, the Division expanded the NJPMP’s capabilities to allow users to review two years’ worth of prescription records, instead of just one. In addition, the system now automatically converts all opioid medicines to a standard “morphine milligram equivalent” dose to help avoid over-prescribing or patient overdose.
Established in 2011, the NJPMP now contains nearly 74 million prescriptions written or filled in New Jersey. Each record in the database contains the names and addresses of the patient, doctor, and pharmacy; drug dispensing date; type, days’ supply, and quantity of medication; and method of payment.
Practitioners are required to check the NJPMP the first time they prescribe a Schedule II CDS to a new or current patient for acute or chronic pain, and on a quarterly basis (every three months) during the period of time a current patient continues to receive a prescription for a Schedule II CDS for acute or chronic pain.
Pharmacies that dispense Schedule II-V CDS and Human Growth Hormone (HGH) in New Jersey, or into New Jersey, are required to submit data on all transactions for such drugs to the NJPMP on a daily basis.
Twelve states – Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, West Virginia, Virginia, South Carolina, and Minnesota – share data with the NJPMP.
The NJPMP is also a valuable tool for law enforcement and regulatory investigations into the unlawful diversion of prescription narcotics. The database has been used to identify and successfully prosecute healthcare professionals associated with "pill mills" that dispense narcotics without a legitimate medical purpose.
For more information visit the Division’s NJPMP website at www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov/pmp.
For information on New Jersey’s new opioid prescribing regulations, or to find guidance on safer pain medication prescribing practices, visit the Division’s Prescribing for Pain website at www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/prescribing-for-pain.
Patients who believe that a licensed health care professional is prescribing CDS inappropriately can file an online complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504- 6200.
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