In December, The Star-Ledger detailed the shocking and systematic abuse of steroids and human growth hormones by police and other public safety officials throughout New Jersey.
A Jersey City doctor was known far and wide for his ready dispensation of the muscle-building drugs, some of which have been linked to increased aggression, confusion and reckless behavior. He made a lucrative living supplying the drugs to those with no legitimate need for them.
The illegal trade brought about his death as well — he succumbed to the side effects of the steroids he also abused.
The newspaper found at least 248 law enforcement officers and firefighters obtained anabolic steroids and human growth hormone from Dr. Joseph Colao, who falsified diagnoses to justify the prescriptions. In most cases, the public employees used their government health benefits, funded through taxes, to pay for the drugs. HGH can run more than $1,000 per prescription, and the newspaper reckoned the cost to New Jersey taxpayers in the millions of dollars.
Several cases of “roid rage” have been linked to officers’ fraudulent use of the drugs. One of about a dozen Trenton officers implicated in ordering anabolic steroids and human growth hormone over the internet was the subject of a civil suit following such an incident. The suit alleged he and another officer severely beat a 53-year-old man, who suffered a broken nose, broken ribs, a broken hand and spinal injuries, according to the suit. In April 2010, the city settled the case for a half-million dollars in taxpayer funds.
Since The Star-Ledger’s report was published, state Attorney General Paula Dow has moved quickly to address the abuses. She assembled a committee with representatives from three state divisions, prosecutors and deputy attorneys general to come up with solutions to the endemic problem. Last week, she announced that the state has started new safeguards in the prescription benefits plan used by hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans. Attorney General Dow described that as a first step of a comprehensive strategy likely to include aggressive investigations, increased steroid testing of officers and tougher oversight of doctors.
Meanwhile, the Legislature too has taken up the issue. The Assembly has unanimously approved a bill to combat the recreational use of human growth hormone, particularly among law enforcement officers and firefighters, by adding the drug to the list of those monitored by the state. Under the program, pharmacies must report every prescription they fill for controlled dangerous substances, a class of drugs that includes narcotics and hallucinogens. Should the Senate concur with the Assembly, HGH would be regarded as a controlled dangerous substance.
Another bill before the Legislature would require law enforcement officers and firefighters who have prescriptions for the substances filled to undergo fitness-for-duty evaluations by a doctor. A third calls on Attorney General Dow to include anabolic steroids in the list of drugs for which officers are randomly tested.
We’re glad to see the swift response to the dangerous and unhealthy situation. We encourage lawmakers to continue their legislative remedies as Attorney General Dow works on policy reforms.
Easy access to unnecessary steroids and consequent abuse threaten the integrity of law enforcement officers and firefighters throughout New Jersey as they systematically break down their physical and mental health.
Those entrusted with safeguarding the community should know better than to threaten their own safety and the public’s. If they don’t, the state must make that abundantly clear.