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Former NJ Doctor Accused of Prescribing Nearly 1.5 Million Opioids Over Last 3 Years

Morris Starkman of Cinnaminson, NJ was taken into custody a few weeks ago after numerous sources began to point to the former physician’s gross over-prescription of opioid painkillers

According to the Burlington County Police Office, Mr. Starkman supplied over 1.4 million doses of the medication to a number of patients over the course of 3+ years. And according to Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina, he did so in the interest of keeping his practice alive. Coffina told NBC that Starkman was handing pills out like “candy”, pointing to eight patients who were under prescriptions that saw them taking 11 opioids per day, and one patient who died of overdose while on a prescription.

One patient, who wished to remain unnamed, was prescribed over 17,000 opioids during their time under Dr. Starkman’s care.

Prosecutors have also described Starkman’s physical examinations and patient reports as rushed and often unfinished; Many patients who were prescribed opioid medications had no legitimate medical conditions on record under which such prescriptions would be necessary.

Coffina pins him as one of NJ’s most prolific prescribers. “The number of opioids he prescribed for the three-year period reviewed during the investigation was enough to provide in excess of three doses to every man, woman and child residing in Burlington County.”

Officials also uncovered a number of fraudulent health care claims submitted by Dr. Starkman that they believe may have been used to cover the costs of such massive quantities of opioid medications.

It may have been this practice that prompted the uncovering of this scheme, however, as Burlington County Police Officials say, the investigation was instigated off of a tip from one of Dr. Starkman’s insurance companies, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.

Starkman has since surrendered his medical license and is currently awaiting trial.

Although an official trial date has yet to be announced, prosecutors have stated that it may reach a grand jury due to its involvement with opiates.

This statement in particular is particularly important – not simply in its implication that American officials are recognizing this case as important, but due to their reasoning behind this

decision. Opiate crimes are now under a higher level of scrutiny than ever before, and the opioid crisis has heightened Americans to those crimes taking place in white-collar settings.

Historically, this focus was pointed very strongly in the opposite direction, with legislation and police activity focusing on mass incarceration of street dealers and users.

In New York, for example, the sale of 2 ounces of narcotics was once punishable by up to 25 years in prison, owing to the Rockefeller Drug Laws. These laws stood from 1973 to 2004 and have resulted in a severe inflation of the United States prison system, with over 150,000 New York workers incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes since the implementation of the laws. For the first four years of the law’s reign, the 2-ounce rule also applied to cannabis.

While the laws were initially created to put fear into drug kingpins, far more of the arrests of young, black and brown men who sold small amounts of substances on the streets. Lower-income neighborhoods in New York with frequent arrests began to attract more frequent policing, which in turn led to more and more frequent arrests.

Mr. Starkman is accused of being one of the ‘drug kingpins’ that the Rockefeller Laws were meant to affect. However, due to social biases and misconceptions about the harms of opioid medications, he and those like him were largely unaffected by such laws. But in the midst of a national drug crisis, the lines have been blurred between the stereotypical image of a drug dealer and one wearing a white coat.

Written by Joseph Detrano, CAS Science Writer.
Disclaimer: The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies.