NEWARK – Over the arguments of Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, the State Board of Medical Examiners declined to temporarily suspend the medical license of a Toms River physiatrist, Dr. Bruce Coplin, who allegedly overprescribed highly addictive opioid painkillers to patients for years. Instead, the Board voted to temporarily bar Coplin from prescribing controlled dangerous substances (CDS) until his case is heard by an administrative judge.
Prior to the Board’s decision, the State requested that the doctor’s medical license be suspended pending a final decision by the judge. In support of its position, the State presented evidence obtained during a months-long investigation led by the N.J. Division of Consumers Affairs (DCA) and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which included video recordings of Coplin prescribing opioids to two individuals posing as patients who told him they had previously diverted some of their pain pills.
“If we are serious about ending the opioid crisis, then we must also get serious about holding doctors accountable when they recklessly prescribe these drugs,” said Attorney General Grewal. “Our investigation revealed that Dr. Coplin’s dangerous practices put the public’s safety at risk. We believe he has exhibited such dangerous judgment that a full cessation of practice was the only remedy adequate to protect the public. We are disappointed that the Board of Medical Examiners disagreed.”
“At a time when opioid overdoses are causing New Jersey death rates to soar, physicians are obligated to be part of the solution,” said Paul R. Rodríguez, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “Where the State shows that a physician disregards evidence of diversion, nothing short of a temporary suspension from practice adequately protects the public. I find it troubling that the Board failed to take that step to protect the public in light of the compelling evidence presented in this case.”
In a complaint filed with the Board on July 30, the State alleged that Coplin endangered the life, health, welfare, or safety of eight patients he treated between between January 2013 and February 2018 by engaging in gross negligence and professional misconduct that includes:
- prescribing Oxycodone, OxyContin, Percocet, Fentanyl, and other CDS to patients without conducting any physical examinations or conducting any tests to determine the cause of their complaints of pain;
- failing to employ “even the most rudimentary safeguards” necessary to prevent abuse and/or diversion of the CDS he prescribed;
- prescribing CDS to two individuals who informed him they were illegally selling or trading the drugs;
- prescribing various adjuvant medications, in inappropriate dosages, and without regard to their interaction with opioid medications; and
- pre-signing his prescription pad and allowing his staff to complete prescriptions for CDS in his absence.
In a written decision filed on August 22, the Board agreed that the doctor had engaged in careless and reckless conduct that endangered the public, but stopped short of suspending the doctor’s license.
The Board instead issued an order prohibiting Coplin from prescribing, dispensing or administering controlled dangerous substances to patients and requiring him to transfer patients presently under his care who need such medications.
In arguing its case for Coplin’s temporary suspension, the State provided evidence from a joint investigation by DCA’s Enforcement Bureau and the DEA. Included in the evidence were two undercover videos in which Coplin prescribes CDS to individuals posing as patients even after they admitted diverting the highly addictive opioid pain pills he had previously prescribed to them.
In one video, Coplin prescribed 90 dosage units of Oxycodone to an investigator who told him she had “sold some of her pills for rent money.” In another video, Coplin prescribed 60 dosage units of Oxycodone to a confidential informant who said he had run “a little short” on his medication because he had to return some pills he had previously “borrowed” from someone else.
The Board also reviewed records for six actual patients that Coplin treated for pain for periods ranging from approximately one to five years and found that:
- Coplin did little more than renew prescriptions at each patient's visit, without conducting a new examination;
- he failed to develop long-term treatment plans or goals;
- he failed to make any meaningful efforts to attempt alternative therapies and/or taper prescriptions; and
- he failed to consistently access information available in the Prescription Monitoring Program ("PMP") database, which would have provided additional red flags for potential patient abuse or diversion of medication.
Most disturbingly, the Board found, Coplin continued to prescribe opioids unabated even in the face of classic “red flags” of drug abuse and diversion.
Among those red flags were repeated urine screens in which patients tested negative for the drugs prescribed to them and Coplin’s receipt of communications from pharmacists and/or insurance carriers alerting him to concerns that patients were repeatedly filling prescriptions early and engaging in drug-seeking behavior.
The Board unanimously decided to allow Coplin to continue practicing under restrictions pending the outcome of his case after taking into consideration that:
- Coplin had no prior disciplinary history with the Board;
- he took a number of appropriate steps at the time of each undercover investigator’s initial office visit, including requiring each "patient" to execute a Pain Management Agreement and submit to urine tests; and
- he ultimately discharged two patients based on their drug seeking behaviors and evidence of diversion.
Investigators with the Enforcement Bureau within the Division of Consumer Affairs conducted the investigation. Deputy Attorney General Cristina E. Ramundo of the Professional Boards Prosecution Section in the Division of Law is representing the State in this matter.
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