TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Paul A. Sarlo and Joseph V. Doria to increase penalties on prescription drug dealers and crack down on the booming black market trade of stolen prescription drugs was approved today by the Assembly by a vote of 78-0.
“The retail of stolen prescription drugs, such as OxyContin and other prescribed pain killers, is big business in New Jersey, and we have to shut that business down,” said Senator Sarlo, D-Bergen, Essex and Passaic. “There’s big money for criminals to get involved in prescription drug-running, and we need more than just a slap on the wrists to deter others from getting involved as well.”
“This bill will give county prosecutors the tools they need to send a message — that stealing and illegally selling prescription drugs is a crime, and criminals will be punished,” said Senator Doria, D-Hudson. “Currently, the penalties are far outweighted by the profit in the illegal prescription drug market. We need to let potential illegal drug vendors know that their crimes will be taken very seriously by the State of New Jersey.”
The sponsors said that the bill, S-1428, which was approved unanimously in October by the Senate, was crafted after the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office conducted a large prescription drug bust in March of last year. 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. Since the Bergen story was printed, a case in Essex County of an alleged OxyContin ring has also made news.
Under the bill, those charged with possession with intent to distribute prescription drugs in quantities of more than 100 units could be imprisoned for up to 10 years and fined up to $200,000.
“Accounts in the newspapers cited that one woman who was central to the Essex County investigation was arrested with 20,000 pills in a bag at her home,” said Senator Doria. “That’s far more than any one person needs for a tooth-ache. This bill would allow law enforcement officials to prosecute illegal drug vendors with an aggressive penalty scheme that will hopefully deter others from following in their footsteps.”
The bill, which has widespread endorsement from local law enforcement organizations, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration, is intended to cut down on large-scale drug theft and redistribution from pharmaceutical companies’ tractor-trailers, warehouses, and freight trains.
“What we’re seeing on the local level is a double-hit on aboveboard pharmaceutical corporations and pharmacies,” said Senator Sarlo. “Not only do the criminals steal from them to obtain the product to sell, but then they sell it at a rate that a retail establishment that legitimately paid for the product could never match. The thieves are robbing from the market and crippling it in one swoop, and we have to take action to put a stop to this kind of illicit activity in New Jersey.”
The bill now heads to back to the Senate for concurrence with Assembly amendments, which clarify that the bill is intended to penalize only large-scale illegal drug distributors.