Major crackdown on prescription drug distribution

At her Brooklyn office, Loretta E. Lynch, U.S.

At her Brooklyn office, Loretta E. Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, announces 98 arrests in the past week in a wide-ranging crackdown to curb the illegal distribution of prescription painkillers on Long Island and in New York City. The operation focused on "doctor shoppers" and alleged members of drug distribution rings. Of those arrested, three Long Island medical professionals illegally dispensed a total of more than 3 million pills in two years, according to court documents. (June 6, 2012) (Credit: Charles Eckert)

Federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents and local police carried out a major coordinated crackdown on the illegal distribution of painkillers on Long Island and New York City, charging 98 suspects, authorities said.

Among those charged was a Long Island doctor, Eric Jacobson, already under investigation for providing painkillers to Medford pharmacy killer David Laffer; a Baldwin-based physician, William J. Conway, who federal officials said illegally distributed more than three-quarters of a million Oxycodone pills between January 2009 and November; and a Brentwood nurse-practitioner who is alleged to have distributed more than 400,000 pills.

"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," U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, Loretta Lynch, said in a prepared statement Wednesday.

The metropolitan-area raids started Tuesday and resumed at dawn Wednesday, officials said at a news conference Wednesday in Brooklyn.

The suspects arrested, including medical professionals, were targeted for drug dealing charges, law enforcement officials said. The raids also focused on "doctor shoppers" and alleged members of drug distribution rings who obtain large quantities of the drugs from different doctors for resale.

Most of those targeted live on Long Island, officials said, noting some of the arrests occurred before Tuesday.

The raids were part of a sweeping effort to curb illegal distribution of prescription drugs, including oxycodone, OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin and hydrocodone, Lynch said.

The announcement came a day after the governor and legislative leaders reached a deal to dramatically overhaul the way prescription narcotics are tracked in New York. The breakthrough agreement would change how the state monitors opioids, requiring "real-time" tracking.

The charges were detailed in a federal complaint unsealed Wednesday in Brooklyn at the news conference by Lynch. The gathering also included Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice, as well as the district attorneys of Brooklyn and Staten Island.

The announcement of what was called "a comprehensive prescription drug initiative to combat the growing threat of prescription drug trafficking and abuse," follows on the heels of recent illegal prescription-drug-related horrors cited by Lynch.

One was the Medford pharmacy murders of four people last June by Laffer, who authorities said stole large quantities of painkillers. The other cited by Lynch was the accidental fatal shooting of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent John Capano on New Year's Eve by a retired Nassau County police officer while Capano was struggling with a suspect who had robbed a Seaford pharmacy of painkillers.

Law enforcement efforts to stem the flow of illegal painkillers in the metropolitan area were greatly accelerated after those incidents brought the harmfulness and pervasiveness of such drugs into sharper focus, according to sources.

"Faced with the growing threat of prescription drug trafficking and abuse, this office and our partners have joined forces to coordinate our attack against a menace every bit as dangerous as trafficking in cocaine or other narcotics," Lynch said. "The stakes could not be higher. . . ."

The result of those two incidents, in fact, was an unprecedented cooperative action, as area law enforcement officials on the federal, county and city level began to meet regularly at the U.S. attorney's office on Long Island to coordinate the crackdown, sources said.

Among the participants in the meetings were DEA agents, prosecutors from the offices of the Eastern District U.S. Attorney, and from the district attorney offices in Nassau, Suffolk, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island, as well as Long Island and New York City police.

The DEA has long had units working to stop the illegal distribution of painkillers on Long Island and in New York City.

Ongoing investigations led to the arrests of doctors on Long Island for alleged painkiller trafficking, including Leonard Stambler of Baldwin Harbor and Frank Telang of Port Jefferson Station, in December. They have pleaded not guilty.

The arrest of Jacobson, a doctor who practices in Great Neck and lives in Huntington, is noteworthy because, in addition to being the subject of an investigation into allegations he provided painkillers to Laffer, he is under investigation in connection with the deaths of two of his patients, according to John Martin, his defense attorney, and articles in Newsday. At the time of the previous DEA raids on his office no charges were filed against Jacobson.He is now charged with illegal distribution of narcotics. Conviction carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

According to New York Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement records Conway, the Baldwin physician, issued more than 5,500 Oxycodone prescriptions -- a total of 782,032 pills -- between January 2009 and November. Those prescriptions, Lynch said, went to individuals Conway "knew were addicted to drugs and without medical examination."

Investigators are looking into whether the illegal distribution of those prescription painkillers also led to the deaths of two patients, officials said.

The nurse-practitioner from Brentwood, identified in the complaint as Rools Deslouches, issued more than 4,300 prescriptions for Oxycodone -- a total of 422,107 pills -- according the Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement records. That distribution occurred between August 2009 and October, as detailed in the complaint.

Lynch said that between October and February Deslouches distributed prescriptions to more than 280 individuals, "over half of whom have criminal histories and a third of whom have criminal convictions for drug-related offenses."

In a statement detailing the charges, Lynch said that during the investigation Deslouches offered an undercover agent posing as an addict the controlled substance Oxymorphone as an alternative "because of the increasing scrutiny into the distribution of Oxycodone."

With John Valenti

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