Baldwin doc charged in painkiller probe

Dr. Anand Persaud was arrested Tuesday morning as part of an investigation into health practitioners who overprescribe highly addictive painkillers, state officials said. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (July 30, 2013)

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A Baldwin doctor charged with illegally prescribing painkillers issued thousands of prescriptions and pocketed $1.4 million in cash payments over the past two years, authorities said Tuesday.

Prosecutors say Dr. Anand Persaud wrote the prescriptions for oxycodone and other powerful painkillers during at least 5,800 patient visits in 2011 and 2012.

The money is not in Persaud's bank account and remains unaccounted for, prosecutors said in court Tuesday.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose Medicaid fraud unit conducted the 13-month investigation, said Persaud is one of the state's top prescribers of pain pills.

"He is a drug dealer hiding in a white coat," Schneiderman said. "It's unconscionable that a doctor -- a trusted, licensed professional -- would violate his professional duties and abuse his license to traffic in prescriptions for narcotics."

Persaud, 44, an internist who also has an office in Queens, is charged with two counts of criminal sale of a prescription for a controlled substance.

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Prosecutors say he sold prescriptions for oxycodone to undercover agents posing as patients without examining or questioning them.

He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in First District Court in Hempstead.

Judge Martin Massell ordered him held without bail, deeming him a "very high flight risk."

If convicted, Persaud faces up to 15 years in prison.

The state's investigation is ongoing and additional charges are possible, prosecutors said.

Persaud's attorney, Todd Greenberg of Forest Hills, called his client "a very respectable doctor."

"He's helped a lot of people," Greenberg said.

Authorities say Persaud charged patients with legitimate medical issues $110 per office visit, hiking the price to $250 or more for pain pill users and addicts.

"This doctor had a two-track practice: one where he was examining patients; and another where he gave a bunch of prescriptions while demanding cash and then stuffing it into his pockets," Schneiderman said.

As for oxycodone, the attorney general added: "He was dishing it out like candy."

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Authorities said Persaud's overprescribing caused several patients to become addicted to pain pills and fueled opioid addictions in others.

His practice only accepted cash, which ended up costing the state hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary reimbursements, because Medicaid recipients would later bill the state for their care, authorities said.

Several of Persaud's patients at his Baldwin office at 1019 Atlantic Ave. said he saw patients of all ages and income levels, asking few questions before prescribing them high dosages of pain pills.

"I'd come every two months or so, pay my $300 and get my Percocet prescription without a problem," said Joseph Bonner, 47, a Hempstead construction worker who takes the pills for back pain.

"The doctor was so busy, with so many patients in and out, he didn't really have time to ask you questions," Bonner said.

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Persaud is due back in court Thursday. Records show he graduated in 1996 from Ross University School of Medicine in Roseau, Dominica.

State and federal officials have engaged in a series of highly publicized prosecutions of doctors and health care providers on Long Island since drug addict David Laffer shot and killed four people while robbing a Medford pharmacy in June 2011.

One of those doctors, William Conway, 70, of Baldwin, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty earlier this month to federal charges that he conspired to illegally distribute oxycodone.

Conway was accused of writing 5,554 oxycodone prescriptions for a total of 782,032 pills from January 2009 to November 2011.

Since 2006, oxycodone has contributed to more deaths than any other prescription opioid in Nassau County, and prescriptions for the drug increased 42 percent from 2008 to 2010, records show.

And prescription pain pills have accounted for a growing portion of accidental drug overdoses statewide -- 25 percent in 2009 compared with 16 percent in 2005.

Authorities say many overdoses are partially the result of "doctor shopping," in which people fill prescriptions from two or more doctors at two or more pharmacies within a one-month period.

That trend will likely be curbed when the next phase of the Internet System for Tracking Over Prescribing, known as I-STOP, goes into effect Aug. 27. The system, championed by Schneiderman, will make New York the first state that requires doctors to consult a patient's medical history before prescribing most pain pills.

With Christopher Peak

and Maria Alvarez

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