Law enforcement using prescription drug databases to track physicians with improper prescription habits

While doctors use state prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) to identify patients who have drug problems, law enforcement is also using the databases to help track down prescribers who are guilty of improperly distributing drugs to patients.

In New Jersey, for instance, the state’s prescription database helped police break up a physician-led opioid ring, according to NJ Spotlight.

While PDMPs were set up to allow physicians to identify patients who were trying to “doctor shop” for drugs, including highly addictive opioid painkillers, New Jersey’s database has become an effective tool for law enforcement to track down prescribers running so-called pill mills, according to the report.

The New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program, which includes some 73 million entries, tracks opioid prescriptions and lets physicians and pharmacists check a patient to see what other prescriptions they are taking.

That same database led to the arrest last week of an Essex County doctor and 16 other New Jersey residents who allegedly worked with him to illegally distribute tens of thousands of pain pills in Atlantic County, the state attorney general said in an announcement.

Craig Gialanella, M.D., 53, an internist with a practice in Belleville, was arrested July 17 and charged with second-degree distribution of narcotics that included oxycodone and the anti-anxiety drug alprazolam.

The doctor allegedly sold prescriptions for cash to what was described as a ring of drug dealers, writing fraudulent prescriptions for patients who had no legitimate medical need for the highly addictive drugs, according to Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino.

RELATED: Mandatory PDMP participation helped 3 states drive down opioid prescriptions

The doctors and others were arrested as part of “Operation Oxy Highway,” an ongoing investigation by the state’s Prescription Fraud Investigation Strike Team that targets healthcare professionals and pill mills. Since 2014, the team has charged six doctors, including Gialanella, with illegally distributing opioids, including two doctors who face first-degree murder charges of strict liability for overdose deaths, according to the AG’s office.

“Doctors who act like drug dealers and illegally dole out prescriptions for these highly addictive painkillers are nothing more than drug pushers in white coats,” said Porrino.

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Last week New Jersey State Sen. Robert Singer, who represents a district hard hit by opiate addiction, outlined his plans for legislation that would make it easier for police officials to access the database, according to NJ Spotlight. Law enforcement officials now need a subpoena or court order to log into the system.

Missouri, the last state in the country without a PDMP, will soon get its own program after Gov. Eric Greitens signed an executive order which bypasses the state legislature, which for years has not been able to pass legislation to establish a PDMP.