A Great Neck doctor charged with illegally prescribing thousands of narcotic painkillers to patients, including pharmacy killer David Laffer, was sentenced Tuesday to 8 years in prison by a judge who said he hopes the punishment serves as a deterrent.
Eric Jacobson, 54, who admitted to 19 felony counts of illegal distribution of oxycodone, also must forfeit about $250,000 seized by the government and serve 3 years of supervised release.
U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Bianco in Central Islip called it “extremely dangerous to society” when physicians overprescribe or supply highly addictive opiates to patients with no legitimate medical need.
When profiteering doctors doing that are caught, the judge warned: “They’re going to spend a long time in jail.”
Jacobson sobbed as he addressed Bianco, saying he felt “ashamed.”
He apologized to his former patients and his family, and asked for leniency.
“It wasn’t my intention to hurt anyone,” said Jacobson, whose wife and two daughters, 12 and 13, were seated in the courtroom. “I’ve learned my lesson . . . a very painful one.”
Jacobson pleaded guilty in May 2014 and admitted Tuesday to prescribing nearly 21,000 oxycodone pills to three patients. Under the terms of the plea deal struck with federal prosecutors, Jacobson faced 7 to 9 years in prison.
“Dr. Jacobson did a lot of harm,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lara Treinis Gatz said in court, arguing for a 9-year sentence.
She said two of Jacobson’s former patients are now in jail because they turned to heroin after becoming hooked on painkillers. One attempted suicide.
Defense attorney Anthony La Pinta of Hauppauge said Jacobson was raised in an abusive family, and his mother died from cancer when he was 11. He managed to put himself through school and build a successful practice, but turned to alcohol to cope with stress, LaPinta said.
“His family unit is in dire need of Dr. Jacobson’s return to them,” the lawyer told the judge.
Bianco said he felt Jacobson understood that he betrayed his Hippocratic oath, and noted that the doctor had also helped many patients in his career. In addition, the judge said he took the impact on Jacobson’s family into account, saying: “I know I’m sentencing his family today as well.”
Jacobson will be credited for his roughly four years in custody.
He is among several Long Island doctors accused or convicted of illegally distributing oxycodone in a region struggling with an opioid epidemic.
The crisis shows no signs of abating, with Nassau County reporting a record number of fatal heroin overdoses — 58 — last year, and Suffolk tallying more than 100 overdose deaths for the third straight year.
If the Jacobson case went to trial, Gatz said she had planned to use testimony by Laffer and his wife, Melinda Brady, against Jacobson. None of the charges Jacobson pleaded guilty to, however, involved Laffer or Brady, who were convicted of the June 2011 Medford pharmacy robbery-slayings that left four dead.
Jacobson was arrested in June 2012 and charged with 262 counts of violating laws relating to the distribution of painkillers. He admitted to charges involving prescriptions he wrote to individual but unidentified patients in December 2011, after a raid on his Great Neck office by federal agents.
At the time of the raid, Jacobson gave up his DEA registration enabling him to prescribe narcotic painkillers. Federal authorities said he still prescribed about 3,900 oxycodone pills to the 19 patients later in the day.
Jeffrey L. Reynolds, head of the Mineola-based Family & Children’s Association, which offers addiction treatment, said Tuesday’s sentence was significant but “pales in comparison” to the toll of fatal overdoses.