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Authorities: Hospitalized Ridgewood Doctor Had Wife Write Prescriptions

James Cowan, Jr.
James Cowan, Jr. Photo Credit: MUGSHOT: Courtesy BERGEN COUNTY PROSECUTOR

RIDGEWOOD, N.J. -- A 72-year-old Ridgewood psychiatrist who worked from a home office had his since-deceased wife write prescriptions for "highly addictive" drugs whle he was confined to a hospital and then a nursing home, authorities said.

James Cowan, Jr. had his license temporarily suspended by the state Board of Medical Examiners last year for indiscriminately prescribing drugs to patients without examinations, Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal said.

Cowan was among a record 31 physicians in New Jersey accused last year of over-prescribing pain killer and other drugs that can lead to addiction, state Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino said.

The crackdown on problem was part of a state campaign "to combat the ongoing heroin and opioid addiction crisis plaguing New Jersey and the nation," Porrino said.

Detectives from Grewal's office busted Cowan by going to him undercover, posing as new patients.

"During these office visits, the undercover officers received prescriptions for medications from Dr. Cowan in exchange for cash payments," the prosecutor said. "[They] were not physically evaluated by Dr. Cowan or anyone else at his office but instead were issued prescriptions for Xanax and Adderall."

Cowan became ill last March and was hospitalized for several months, Grewal said. During that time, his wife saw patients and prescribed drugs on pre-signed blank prescription slips from her husband, Porrino said.

A search warrant of the couple's West Saddle River Road home last April turned up a variety of information -- including files for patients who'd been obstaining drugs through prescriptions signed by Cowan while he was in a rehabilitation clinic, authorities said.

The prescriptions were for, among other drugs, Tylenol with codeine, Adderall, Xanax and Subutex without examining them, they said.

Authorities also charged that Cowan also failed to keep proper patient records.

Under a deal struck with the Board of Medical Examimers, Cowan agreed to be barred from practicing medicine and also from writing prescriptions "until the Board takes further action," said Porrino, the state attorney general.

He was also required to surrender all prescription pads, and any drugs he had, except for those lawfully prescribed for his own use.

“When four out of five new heroin users are getting their start by abusing prescription drugs, you have to attack the problem at ground zero - in irresponsibly run doctors’ offices,” Porrino said.

“Physicians who grant easy access to the drugs that are turning New Jersey residents into addicts can be every bit as dangerous as street-corner dealers," he added. "Purging the medical community of over-prescribers is as important to our cause as busting heroin rings and locking up drug kingpins.”

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