Citing a drain on taxpayers and a potential danger to the public, a state assemblyman will unveil legislation today requiring law enforcement officers and firefighters who fill prescriptions for anabolic steroids or human growth hormone to undergo fitness-for-duty evaluations.
Deputy Speaker John McKeon (D-Essex) calls the proposed law a balanced step that protects the interests of New Jersey's residents while recognizing that some officers and firefighters might legitimately need the drugs.
A second bill sponsored by McKeon and Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington) urges Attorney General Paula Dow to add anabolic steroids and certain “designer drugs” to the list of substances for which law enforcement officers are randomly tested.
The measures come in response to a three-part series inÂ The Star-LedgerÂ last month. The stories showed that hundreds of law enforcement officers and firefighters obtained steroids and growth hormone from a Jersey City doctor, now deceased, who often prescribed the drugs when they weren't medically necessary.
As a matter of routine, the officers and firefighters paid for the substances with their government health benefits, leaving taxpayers with a bill in the millions of dollars, the stories showed.
“Like the rest of New Jersey, when I read this, I was outraged by what the cost of this will be to the taxpayer for many, many years to come,” McKeon said. “It's not only the cost of the prescriptions. When you consider the known health risks that come along with steroid use and that these officers and firefighters are on state health benefits, it's something taxpayers will be paying tenfold for.”
McKeon said he also was concerned about the possibility of increased aggression among officers who use steroids, saying it could endanger the public and lead to big taxpayer-funded payouts in civil suits.
The Assembly bills come amid a flurry of legislative and government action on the issue. The state Senate plans to hold hearings later this month based onÂ The Star-Ledger's findings and a task force assembled by Dow has begun examining the extent of steroid use in law enforcement.
Under McKeon's proposal, officers and firefighters who fill prescriptions for steroids or growth hormone would be required to report to a physician chosen by his or her department within five days. Further evaluations would take place annually.
McKeon said law enforcement and fire agencies in New Jersey already have such contractual relationships with doctors for the purposes of evaluating injuries and disabilities.
If the physician finds an officer or firefighter unfit for duty, the department would be notified. Those who fail to report for an evaluation would be subject to disciplinary action.
Left unanswered in McKeon's bill is the question of how a physician would determine fitness for duty. It's also unclear if an officer or firefighter would automatically be designated unfit if the drugs are not medically necessary.
The assemblyman said the evaluations would not necessarily require urine or blood tests, which are used to screen for a variety of steroids.
McKeon said a physician would rely on his or her “professional medical opinion” to determine fitness.
The assemblyman's resolution on random testing goes beyond anabolic steroids, urging the attorney general to include such drugs as ecstasy, LSD, rohypnol and ketamine, known as “Special K.” The resolution doesn't ask for testing of human growth hormone, which experts call difficult and expensive to detect.
The Star-Ledger's series found at least 248 officers and firefighters from 53 agencies obtained steroids or growth hormone that had been prescribed by the Jersey City doctor, Joseph Colao, through a single pharmacy. Because Colao prescribed the drugs through pharmacies in New Jersey as well, the figure is believed to be far higher.