TRENTON – A package of bills sponsored by Senator Paul A. Sarlo which would crack down on illegal pharmaceutical drug dealers, strengthen regulations on current pharmaceutical wholesalers, and restrict access to common substances that can be used in the manufacture of meth, was signed into law today by Governor Codey.
“The pharmaceutical industry is the backbone of New Jersey’s economy, but time after time, we’ve seen instances where criminals have exploited the system for ill-gotten gains,” said Senator Sarlo, D-Bergen, Essex and Passaic. “These three new laws will provide very real penalties to very serious crimes that threaten the safety and well-being of New Jersey’s residents, by undermining the integrity and security of the drug industry. Through greater regulation on existing legitimate pharmaceutical distributors, we can also cut off the pipeline for illegal activity.”
The first bill, S-1428, was crafted after the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office conducted a large prescription drug bust. At the time, the Prosecutor’s Office was frustrated that illegally distributing prescription drugs – even in large quantities – drew a mere disorderly persons charge punishable upon conviction by a maximum penalty of just a $1,000 fine and a six-month jail term.
Under the Sarlo bill, offenders prosecuted under the new crime of illegal prescription drug trafficking, in which the offender has 100 units or more in possession with intent to distribute, could be imprisoned for up to 10 years and fined up to $200,000.
“Considering the high prices of prescription drugs, the former slap-on-the-wrist penalty for illegally distributing them was far from a disincentive,” said Senator Sarlo. “However, with penalties that now fit the crime, New Jersey can begin to crack down on an illegal trade that rewards exploitive individuals and removes many of the safety practices that are standard in legitimate pharmacies.”
The second bill, S-1753, would create a regulation scheme for wholesale pharmaceutical distributors. Under the bill, wholesale distributors would be subject to licensure by the State Department of Health and Senior Services, and would be required to undergo a criminal background check. The bill also requires that the applicant’s facility be available for inspection, and that the distributor designate a representative who is intimately familiar with the day to day operations of the business and can provide information to the department on request.
Currently, pharmacies are subject to licensure by the State Board of Pharmacies, but wholesalers are not under the same regulations.
“It makes no sense that pharmacies would be so strictly regulated and licensed, but the point of distribution is pretty much wide-open for the taking,” said Senator Sarlo. “Under the new regulation standards, pharmaceutical drugs will be under closer scrutiny from the warehouse to the pharmacy, and the opportunity for abuse from unscrupulous distributors will be greatly diminished.”
The final bill, S-2320, would restrict the sale and possession of ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and anhydrous ammonia, as well as other substances used in the production of methamphetamine, commonly known as meth. While ephedrine and pseudoephedrine have legitimate medical uses, and anhydrous ammonia is commonly used in the manufacture of fertilizer, the bill places reasonable restrictions on the possession and sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine — no more than nine grams of pure ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, or any drug that contains no more than nine grams of the two substances as an active ingredient, at any one time — and would make it a crime punishable by up to six months in prison or a fine of up to $1,000 for violators.
The bill would also create enhanced penalties for offenders that possess any of the active ingredients with the intent to manufacture meth, would require pharmacies to report any theft of active ingredients of meth to their local authorities, and would increase the penalty for stealing anhydrous ammonia for the production of meth.
“Drug abuse is a major problem in today’s society, and meth is particularly dangerous because the ingredients are so readily accessible,” said Senator Sarlo. “Narcotics, such as percocet and morphine, have legitimate medical purposes as well, and we have legal safeguards to ensure that abuse does not take place, and that pharmacies are distributing the drugs responsibly. This law extends similar safeguards to cut down on the prevalence of meth on our streets and protect our youth from the corrupting influence of drugs.”
Senator Sarlo added that the three bills would create a much more regulated environment and would decrease the chances that black market profiteers could exploit the pharmaceutical industry for illegal purposes.
“Today, we are saying that a drug dealer is a drug dealer,” said Senator Sarlo. “There is no difference between trafficking black market prescription drugs or trafficking illegal narcotics. I am proud to have sponsored this comprehensive legislation that will protect New Jersey’s consumers, pharmacies and pharmaceutical industry from the criminal element.”