AG cries foul after N.J. doctor accused in opioid sting keeps license
AG cries foul after N.J. doctor accused in opioid sting keeps license By S.P. Sullivan email@example.com NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
State officials are crying foul after a doctor found to be overprescribing opioids -- including to an undercover investigator -- was allowed by an oversight board to keep practicing medicine.
In a rare public rebuke of one of their own boards, New Jersey's attorney general and the director of the Division of Consumer Affairs said the Toms River doctor, Bruce Coplin, "put the public's safety at risk" by not adequately vetting patients at his large pain management practice.
"If we are serious about ending the opioid crisis, then we must also get serious about holding doctors accountable when they recklessly prescribe these drugs," Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement Monday taking issue with the board rejection of his office's request to suspend to doctor's license.
The disagreement comes as New Jersey grapples with the state's soaring overdose rate, which many experts attribute to abuse of prescription painkillers.
Coplin's attorney, John Hanamirian, said his client was an upstanding, "old school" doctor swept up in an aggressive crackdown on prescribing practices that brought him under a cloud of suspicion.
The allegations emerged after state and federal investigators conducted an undercover operation on the doctor, officials said.
"This guy is a very trusting, caring person," Hanamirian said. "He's been in practice for 35 years. He's never even been sued."
Coplin was disciplined last month following a joint investigation by state authorities and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration that sent an undercover agent and a confidential informant to his office seeking powerful painkillers.
In both cases, authorities said Coplin was caught on tape ignoring obvious "red flags" that the supposed patients were abusing or selling painkillers. Investigators also found the doctor pre-signed blank prescription slips and allowed his staff to fill them out -- a practice Coplin called a "mistake."
The State Board of Medical Examiners, an oversight panel consisting of doctors and other health professionals appointed by the governor, issued an order temporarily barring Coplin from prescribing controlled dangerous substances.
But the board rejected a recommendation from attorneys at the Division of Consumer Affairs, a state watchdog under the attorney general, that the board issue an emergency suspension of Coplin's license until further review.
In a statement, division acting Director Paul Rodriguez said it was "troubling that the Board failed to take that step to protect the public in light of the compelling evidence presented in this case."
State authorities accused Coplin of endangering eight patients with negligence, including prescribing powerful painkillers without conducting exams. In papers filed with the board, the doctor said he was dealing with a flood of new patients from other doctors who had been criminally implicated or disciplined for overprescription.
Hanamirian, his attorney, said the state's crackdown on doctors who handle pain management had left many patients with nowhere else to go.
"Everybody's so afraid to prescribe that he got inundated with patients," he said. "He was trying to triage the situation."
Hanamirian said state and federal authorities searched his client's practice and his home but have not indicated whether he would be charged with a crime.
The board's decision allows Coplin to continue to see patients until an administrative judge can hear arguments in his case, limiting only the doctor's ability to prescribe painkillers.
"The concerns we have identified all are connected to Dr. Coplin's poor judgment in treating pain management patients and writing prescriptions," the board wrote in its decision. "Stripped of the authority to write those prescriptions, the public interest can be adequately safeguarded."
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