By Aman Ali
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Jersey on Thursday unveiled reforms to crack down on steroid abuse by police, including random drug testing.
The new rules follow lawsuits claiming excessive force by officers in the throes of steroid rage filed against New Jersey police, according to a report released by New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow.
The report was the result of a six-month investigation into allegations that a doctor illegally supplied police and firefighters with anabolic steroids, human growth hormones and other muscle-building drugs. Dr. Joseph Colao, now deceased, may have illegally prescribed steroids to 248 public safety officials, mostly police and firefighters, the report concluded.
"It is important that we strengthen oversight, regulation and investigation in order to discourage the improper use of steroids throughout New Jersey's law enforcement community and ensure the public's confidence," Dow said in a statement.
Her recommended reforms include allowing police departments to randomly test officers if there is a "reasonable suspicion" they are abusing steroids, investigating doctors who improperly prescribe them and adding more oversight to the officers' state-funded prescription drug plans.
The attorney general's recommendations come at the same time that the New Jersey legislature is considering three bills aimed at eliminating steroid abuse by police.
New Jersey may be the first state to propose laws aimed at curbing steroid use among policeman, the National Council of State Legislatures said earlier this year. Most states are concentrating on steroid use among athletes.
Deputy Speaker of the House John McKeon said steroid abuse is a national problem because there are several cases of doctors tricking police into thinking they need steroids and other types of growth hormones.
"They're charlatans trying to tell them they need anti-aging medicine," McKeon said. "In reality, only about one in 100,000 people are appropriately prescribed these things."
New Jersey's Police Benevolent Association, one of the state's largest police unions, told Reuters it supports the random drug testing.
"We're supportive of testing because we don't want anything illegally prescribed in the hands of any law enforcement officer," PBA spokesman Jim Ryan said.
Ryan said the PBA's concern is the rising cost associated with the random tests. A standard drug test for an officer costs a police department roughly $35 and but the new steroid test would cost $250. Police departments are already dealing with tough budget cuts and the new measure is an additional burden that could lead to layoffs, he said.
McKeon noted the random drug testing is not mandatory as local police departments reserve the right to not implement it if they cannot afford it.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)