New N.J. plan targets steroid use by police

New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow announces a series of reforms developed by a study group to combat illegal steroid use by police officers.
New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow announces a series of reforms developed by a study group to combat illegal steroid use by police officers. (MEL EVANS / Associated Press)

It allows departments to test officers for using the muscle-building drugs, but does not require it.

Posted: July 08, 2011

HAMILTON, N.J. - A new state strategy unveiled Thursday to combat illegal steroid use by New Jersey police allows departments to test officers for steroids but falls short of more drastic action taken in other parts of the country.

Flanked by prosecutors, police chiefs and medical officials, Attorney General Paula Dow listed a multitiered strategy for curbing misuse and improper prescribing of anabolic steroids and other muscle-building drugs, a problem that has cost taxpayers millions of dollars and jeopardized the community's trust in law enforcement.

The study group that developed the strategy began its work after a December 2010 investigation by the Newark Star-Ledger revealed that hundreds of officers and firefighters had used government benefits to pay for steroids and human growth hormone.

The state's drug testing policy for police will be changed to allow, but not require, police departments to test officers for steroids, leaving police chiefs with the decision of whether to perform drug tests. Under the current policy, steroids are not on the list of drugs that can be tested.

"The costs, frankly, are and can be prohibitive," Dow said. "We think it's a balanced approach, addressing the costs involved but putting out the real message that we'll be looking at you."

Drug tests for muscle-building drugs must be sent out of state for analysis, at a cost of hundreds of dollars per test. On the other end, New Jersey paid more than $11 million in 2010 for steroid and hormone prescriptions for state employees.

Dow also added growth hormone to the list of prescriptions the state tracks and called for legislation to get tough on doctors who improperly prescribe. There will be heightened scrutiny and regulations for prescriptions paid for by state health insurance, but those won't affect an officer who pays for his prescription out-of-pocket.

Those who test positive will need a doctor's letter saying there's a legitimate medical reason for steroids or hormones. The Star-Ledger reported that the doctor who prescribed the drugs to 248 officers and firefighters used fake diagnoses.

"On a positive side, the attorney general was recognizing that the use of anabolic steroids is an issue and a problem among law enforcement," said Assemblyman John McKeon (D., Essex), who has introduced multiple pieces of legislation to address the problem. "Within the confines of her ability to put a policy in effect, I applaud the effort."

Firefighters, who do not report to the attorney general, will not be affected by the new rules.

Barbara Carreno, a spokeswoman for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, said that aside from serious medical risks, steroid misuse also can lead to dramatic mood swings, hostility, and elevated levels of aggression, or " 'roid rage."

"These effects are of particular concern when manifested by those charged with protecting the public, whose work requires patience, understanding, and good judgment in often difficult circumstances," Carreno said.

Misuse of muscle-building drugs by law enforcement has been recognized as a problem nationwide since at least the early 1990s, when the FBI included an article urging greater awareness of the issue in its Law Enforcement Bulletin. States from Massachusetts to Oregon have looked into steroid use among their police ranks and responded.

Phoenix added anabolic steroids to its required random testing for all officers and screening for new officers in 2005, and the New York Police Department added it in 2008, spending about $1 million per year to test all 36,000 of its officers.

Elsewhere, states have passed tough laws punishing doctors who prescribe them for patients who don't truly need them, and those laws are not limited to police officers or public employees.

In Louisiana, doctors can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for prescribing steroids for bodybuilding purposes, and those caught possessing the drugs can get five years, according to the study group's 30-page report.

In New Jersey, legislation sponsored by McKeon and others requiring human growth hormone prescriptions to be tracked passed the Assembly in March and has stalled in the Senate, but the strategy announced Thursday will put that tracking in place.

Another bill McKeon has championed would require police officers to report to a state-designated doctor within five days of being prescribed the drugs, but the bill has lingered without action since being introduced one month after the Star-Ledger investigation.

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