Belleville case cited in Rx-crisis battle

NEWARK —

Expanding efforts to stem the flow of prescription drugs fueling New Jersey’s opioid crisis, state Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Division of Consumer Affairs have created a new web-based portal that will allow pharmacists, medical practitioners — and members of the public — “to easily report suspected abuse or diversion of controlled substances.”

In announcing the program Aug. 3, authorities specifically cited the case of Belleville internist Dr. Craig Gialanella, whose arrest last month was the result of a tip from an Atlantic County pharmacist. The druggist reportedly became suspicious that numerous Shore area residents “were obtaining large quantities of opioids” from a doctor whose office was 100 miles away. (Observer, July 26, 2017.)

Gialanella, 53, a general practitioner with an office at 50 Newark Ave., Belleville, was arrested July 17, as were 16 alleged drug dealers in Atlantic County accused of running an illegal pill ring that distributed tens of thousands of high-dose opioids.

The new Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) portal, part of the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program (NJPMP), permits individuals to report suspicious activities, such as the overprescribing of controlled substances, “doctor shopping,” or the circulation of forged or stolen prescriptions.

The SAR portal can be accessed on the website: www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov/pmp. Information contained in filed reports will be reviewed for possible administrative and criminal enforcement action.

“As the deadly scourge of addiction continues to claim lives in our state, we’re making it easier than ever for New Jerseyans to fight back,” said Porrino. “By taking a few minutes to submit a Suspicious Activity Report online, you could be preventing a fresh supply of habit-forming drugs from hitting the streets and destroying lives.”

Gialanella was charged with second-degree distribution of narcotics for allegedly writing the prescriptions that supplied dealers with large quantities of oxycodone and alprazolam, a generic form of Xanax, for sale on the street.

Upon his arrest, authorities said, he signed a Consent Order with the state Board of Medical Examiners, agreeing to the temporary suspension of his medical license and his registration to prescribe Controlled Dangerous Substances in the state, pending further action by the board.

Authorities said the Gialanella investigation began in October 2016, after the pharmacist noted that the doctor’s “patients” frequently presented prescriptions for oxycodone that were issued in the same name with a different date of birth, “in an apparent attempt to avoid detection by the NJPMP and to avoid limits on permitted quantities of such narcotics.”

A subsequent NJPMP review reportedly revealed that, since early 2015, Gialanella had issued and/or authorized to be issued 6,600 CDS prescriptions in large quantities – for a total of 734,000 dosage units. His patients had filled prescriptions at 500 pharmacies throughout the state, according to the Consent Order.

Porrino’s office said the criminal investigation is ongoing.

The new SAR portal is the latest enhancement to the NJPMP, a centralized data-sharing system for health-care providers and pharmacists in 12 partner states (including New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania) to track prescriptions of narcotic painkillers and other drugs.

Established in 2011, the NJPMP now contains nearly 74 million prescriptions written or filled in New Jersey. Each record in the database contains the names and addresses of the patient, doctor and pharmacy; drug-dispensing date; type, days’ supply and quantity of medication, and method of payment.

Practitioners are required to check the NJPMP the first time they prescribe a Schedule II CDS to a patient and every three months during the period of time the patient continues to receive the Rx.

Pharmacies are required to submit data on all transactions for such drugs to the NJPMP on a daily basis.

Patients who believe that a licensed health-care professional is prescribing CDS inappropriately can file an online complaint with Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.

 — Karen Zautyk

 

Karen Zautyk | Observer Correspondent