The Feds and local authorities this week rounded up 98 people involved in the trafficking of prescription drugs like oxycodone, including two doctors and a nurse. Law enforcement officers executed dozens of search warrants, and sued a Brooklyn pharmacist to bar him from dispensing the highly addictive drugs.
The takedown was part of an effort to get control of what has become the latest narcotics scourge in the metro area. Last June, an oxycodone addict murdered four people during the robbery of a Suffolk County pharmacy. In December, a federal agent was killed trying to stop another pharmacy robbery in Nassau County. Suffolk arrests have skyrocketed by 900 percent in 10 years, and accounted for half of the DWI arrests in 2011.
Meanwhile, deaths from unintentional overdoses of the pills have risen. The legally prescribed drugs, the Feds say, “have a high potential for abuse that may lead to addiction, violence, and the degradation of communities.”
“The prescription drug problem presents a new face and a new challenge for law enforcement, as it involves new actors and permeates all of our communities,” says U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch.
Two types of dealers have emerged, the Feds say: Folks who forge, steal or sell prescriptions which are filled and sold on the street, and folks in the medical field who violate their oath to profit by taking money dispense unnecessary prescriptions to addicts and dealers.
Among the cases triggered by the raids:
A Great Neck, N.Y. doctor gave prescriptions to people he knew were diverting–or reselling–the drugs to other people. The doctor then got kickbacks from the diverters.
A Baldwin N.Y. doctor meanwhile is charged with issuing 5,554 oxycodone prescriptions–more than 700,000 pills–to various people from January, 2009 to November, 2011. This doctor was aware that his “clients” were addicted to the drugs. A nurse in Brentwood, N.Y., meanwhile, is charged with issuing over 4,000 prescriptions from 2009 to 2011 to 288 people, over half of whom had criminal records.
In Brooklyn, pharmacist Mark Khasklezon, owner of the Westside Pharmacy, forged 88 prescriptions for oxy. He agreed to pay a $105,000 penalty.
In Staten Island, 10 people were arrested for “doctor shopping,” or getting oxy prescriptions from multiple doctors. One of those arrested got 1,800 pills from 8 different doctors. One of them, doctor’s office manager David Zaritsky, forged oxycodone prescriptions for his friends. Another doctor’s office employee did the same thing.
Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan called the program a “prescription pill epidemic.” He said the arrests represent a shift in law enforcement strategy, from the users to the distributors, like unethical doctors and others.
Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes, meanwhile, charged five people involved in a telephone based delivery service for oxy, pot and coke. Hyne described the service as “convenient, one-stop shopping,” and the defendants are people “of means.”
In Queens, DA Richard Brown said nine people were arrested over the past year in connection with a ring that shopped forged Bronx Lebanon Hospital at Queens pharmacies. They sold oxy, methadone and even klonopin.
Brown quoted the Centers for Disease Control, saying that prescription pain killers are responsible for killing more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined.
In Nassau County, DA Kathleen Rice said 90 new cases have been brought since January 2012.
“The devastation caused by prescription drug abuse impacts every segment of
society. Pharmacy robberies, overdose deaths, drugged driving incidents and the illegal dispensation of prescription drugs are all on the rise,” Rice said.
And in Suffolk County, 20 people have been indicted for possession and sale of the drugs.