2000 to Present: A New Millenium
Over five decades, the Department of Consumer Protection remained a regulatory agency that safeguards many fronts to protect citizens from physical injury and financial loss caused by unsafe or fraudulent products and services. As new issues arose, the agency adjusted its focus and realigned its resources to adapt to the changing environment. It proved itself ready and able be to mobilize staff at any time in order to respond swiftly and effectively to a food, drug, product safety or economic crisis.
In 2000, the home improvement unit got creative in its enforcement efforts. Using an unoccupied house in Wilton, several home improvement investigators posed as homeowners and invited area contractors to visit the house and provide bids to complete various home improvement projects. The operation uncovered 27 unregistered contractors who were subsequently arrested.
A high level of media coverage resulted, helping the agency raise public awareness about the risks in hiring unregistered home improvement contractors. Immediately following the publicity, contractors flocked to the agency to register.
In 2001, Connecticut paved the way for the first significant consumer protection of the 21st century. Beginning January 1st, any business using telemarketing as a sales tool in Connecticut was required obtain a copy of the State’s new "Do Not Call List" maintained by the Department of Consumer Protection and delete those names from its database. Consumers seeking escape from unsolicited telemarketing calls signed up for the Do Not Call List and were then "off limits" to most telemarketers. Connecticut’s landmark Do Not Call program set the stage for enactment of a national Do Not Call registry in 2003.
From 2002 through 2005, the Drug Control Division, in conjunction with various state and federal agencies, investigated several physicians writing illegal prescriptions. The physicians were found to have prescribed a total of more than 600,000 dosage units of popular painkillers Percocet, Vicodin and Oxycontin. Several physicians were arrested, and had their controlled substance registrations revoked.
In June 2003, the agency concluded its second major undercover sting operation at a home in Enfield uncovering 143 home improvement contractors violating State law. In October, the Department transmitted to the brand new federal Do Not Call Registry the phone registrations for more than one million Connecticut residents who had previously signed up for the Connecticut program since 2001.
A case involving nearly 2,000 complaints about deceptive fuel contracts being issued by a New Britain company in 2004, led to the Department‘s in-depth investigation into the dealings of several troubled heating fuel dealerships between 2004 and 2006. Issues included non-delivery on pre-paid fuel contracts, questionable pricing practices, sudden business closures and deceptive contracts. Two cases led to the arrest of the business owners in July and November of 2005 on larceny charges.
In response to repeated complaints about fuel companies not honoring their pre-paid contracts, the agency sought and achieved passage of Public Act 05-229, which included several provisions on the sale of pre-paid fuel contracts in order to protect buyers from financial harm.
In 2005, the Drug Control Division investigated large volume distribution of controlled substances from an internet pharmacy. Cooperating with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration drug control agents gathered enough evidence by early 2006 to revoke the operating license of Taftville Pharmacy, located in the Taftville section of Norwich, for allegedly dispensing controlled substance prescriptions via the Internet without a doctor’s prescription.
A massive theft in May 2006 of personal data from the U.S. Veterans Administration prompted Governor M. Jodi Rell to launch a rapid-response Identity Theft Information Team composed of staff from the Departments of Consumer Protection, Public Safety, Banking and Veterans Affairs to conduct identity theft prevention seminars for veterans throughout the state. The team organized ten half-day sessions to teach veterans how to monitor their financial accounts and credit reports and how to correct erroneous information.
Liquor agents partnered with local and state law enforcement officers and youth volunteers trained and provided by the Connecticut Coalition to Stop Underage Drinking on 693 compliance checks throughout the state. Of the total number of stores checked for compliance in 2006, 138 stores failed by selling alcoholic liquor to a minor.
Statewide media coverage of another successful home improvement undercover operation in 2006 once again urged persons working in home improvement to become registered as required by law, and discouraged homeowners from hiring any unregistered home improvement contractor. The operation found 115 contractors who had either failed to register or who violated other requirements of the Home Improvement Act. These individuals were brought into compliance. Home improvement registrations increased to an all time high of 28,000.
Measurable levels of antibiotics, heart medications, and a host of other powerful drugs turning up in water supplies became a worldwide issue. Unused medicine put out with the trash or flushed down the drain were leeching into groundwater causing concerns about the environment and the future safety of the world’s water supplies.
The Drug Control Division joined government and community groups to develop environmentally safe methods for medicine disposal and to educate the public in this regard. Agents also conducted public disposal events to educate pharmacists, municipalities and the public in proper medication disposal methods.
That summer, toothpaste made in China and tainted with an diglycol, an unsafe active ingredient, was identified by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Commissioner Jerry Farrell, Jr. directed Drug Control and Food and Standards agents to conduct a statewide sweep of retail stores to remove the product from the marketplace. Health care facilities were also alerted to look for and remove the unsafe toothpaste.
Inspectors found and confiscated 430 tubes of counterfeit Colgate reportedly made in South Africa and 275 tubes of Chinese-made Dentakleen and Dentakleen Junior. The toothpastes contained diglycol, a chemical used in anti-freeze that can cause liver and kidney damage and death.
With identity theft a growing concern, the Department partnered with a mobile paper shredding company to host free public "Shredding Events" in May and September 2007. The popular events promoted citizen awareness of the need to destroy unneeded personal and financial documents in order to prevent identity theft. Participants were thrilled to quickly and safely rid their storage areas of unwanted, outdated personal documents.
Following reports of lead found in various toys distributed under a prominent national toy brand, agency product inspectors searched for and confiscated hundreds of recalled toys from stores across the state. Ongoing website postings of recalled, unsafe items were thereafter utilized to raise public awareness of dangerous, recalled items in order that consumers could take appropriate action to remain safe.
In recognition of its ongoing enforcement and educational efforts, the Liquor Control Division was presented with the "2007 Outstanding State Agency Award" from the Connecticut Coalition to Stop Underage Drinking.
The failure of a Connecticut oil company in early 2008 affected more than 10,000 customers and generated 1,800 written complaints to the Department from people who ran out of oil or were left without an oil provider. The Department mobilized to handle phone complaints and inquiries from consumers seeking assistance. The Department further stepped up its policy and legislative efforts in order to increase protections for fuel-buying consumers.
The Department’s newly upgraded website, www.ct.gov/dcp, logged more than 1.1 million visits in 2008, in no small part due to a major upgrade to the agency’s licensing procedures and systems. Thanks to improved technology, businesses and individuals were given the option to renew their licenses and change addresses and phone numbers online, eliminating time consuming trips to Hartford or mail delays. More than $4.7 million in revenue to the State was generated online in the first six months.
Drug control professionals noted the growing use and abuse of controlled substances such as sedation drugs clonazepam, diazepam and lorazepam, and opiate painkillers like hydrocodone. These two classes of drugs were the most frequently mentioned in drug abuse-related cases seen in emergency rooms across the country, more than marijuana and heroin-related visits combined.
Following several years of planning, organizing, building awareness and securing approval and federal grant funding, the agency in 2008 implemented the state’s first Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to track the distribution of prescription drugs in the State and to identify patterns of abuse in order to initiate enforcement action where necessary.
Drug Control staff trained and educated hundreds of prescribing medical practitioners, pharmacists and law enforcement personnel throughout Connecticut on the use of this state of the art technology system, with the ultimate goal of reducing the devastating effects of prescription drug abuse in Connecticut.
In 2009, the Department completed its online licensing and renewal system using the latest technology, thus allowing all of the agency’s 204,000 licensed individuals and businesses to renew their credentials and change their contact information online. Due to its great success, the Department launched a pilot program with the State Department of Public Health, making the online system available for renewing the licenses of the state’s 95,000 physicians, dentists and nurses. The shared system resulted in better data being available to both agencies and the public at reduced cost, and allowed the State to make optimal use of the Department’s online licensing system.