TRENTONÂ - Attorney General Paula Dow set the framework Tuesday for a broad examination of anabolic steroid use by New Jersey law enforcement officers, saying a newly formed committee would look into random testing, the role of physicians in illegally dispensing the drugs and the costs to the public.
“Everything will be on the table,” Dow said. “We will be looking at several angles involving the improper use of steroids in law enforcement.”
The committee's creation comes amid demands for action following a series of Star-Ledger reports showing that hundreds of New Jersey officers and firefighters obtained steroids and human growth hormone from a Jersey City doctor who frequently broke the law by prescribing the drugs when they weren't medically necessary.
The newspaper also found the officers and firefighters often paid for the substances with their government health benefits, costing the public millions of dollars.
The committee will draw members from a range of agencies, including the state Division of Criminal Justice, the Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor, county prosecutors' offices, municipal police departments and the Division of Consumer Affairs, which oversees doctors through the state Board of Medical Examiners.
Dow disclosed the panel's creation after a meeting with the state's prosecutors in West Trenton.
“The concerns raised by the attorney general are echoed by all 21 county prosecutors,” said Salem County Prosecutor John T. Lenahan, president of the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey. “It's a matter that is going to be taken very seriously.”
Lenahan added that he expected swift results.
“This is something very important to the attorney general, so I know it's not going to take 18 months,” he said. “Action is going to be taken very quickly.”
It's unlikely that action will include the criminal prosecution of the officers and firefighters involved.
Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio said the burden of proving wrongdoing beyond a reasonable doubt would be too great given that Joseph Colao, the doctor who provided the prescriptions, died in 2007.
“The patients would claim that Colao had told them it was a proper prescription,” DeFazio said. “We'd have no way to prove that. Is it an abuse? No doubt. Is it disturbing? Clearly. But every time there's an abuse in the system, it doesn't result in an indictment.”
DeFazio suggested the state could use civil action to recover some of the money spent on steroids or growth hormone if it can be proved the drugs were not necessary.
The committee, whose members have not been named, will also explore ways to prevent steroid abuse among officers and to gauge its prevalence in law enforcement.
The Star-Ledger's report was based, in part, on prescription records of a single pharmacy in Brooklyn. Colao was known to prescribe the drugs through pharmacies in New Jersey as well, suggesting the number of users is substantially higher than the 248 the paper found.
In addition, the newspaper reported that after Colao's death, many of his patients sought doctors who specialize in prescribing steroids and other hormones.
The officers and firefighters represent 53 agencies, including local departments, county sheriff's offices, the state Department of Corrections and the State Police.
No agencies in New Jersey conduct random testing for steroids, and departments that have ordered officers to take tests based on the suspicion of steroid use have routinely been sued by the officers or their unions.
Dow's announcement came as lawmakers expressed outrage over the newspaper's findings for the second straight day.
Assemblywoman Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) called recreational steroid use by law enforcement officers “inexcusable,” saying it could lead to erratic behavior. She also railed against the use of tax dollars to pay for the drugs.
“While most New Jerseyans are struggling to meet mortgage payments and provide even the most basic needs for their families, there were law enforcement officers purchasing steroids on the taxpayer's dime,” Turner said in a statement. “The behavior of these individuals is especially disturbing in light of the number of their fellow officers that are currently being laid off across New Jersey.”