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Queens doctor pleads guilty in prescription overdose deaths

Lawrence Choy, above in 2018, pleaded guilty to

Lawrence Choy, above in 2018, pleaded guilty to multiple felony counts Tuesday in state Supreme Court in Manhattan in a case related to his overprescribing of opioids resulting in the deaths of three patients, two of them from Long Island. Photo Credit: DEA

A Queens doctor pleaded guilty to felony manslaughter and other charges Tuesday related to his overprescribing of opioids that caused the deaths of three patients, including two from Long Island, authorities said.

Dr. Lawrence Choy was arrested last year in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, where he'd fled while under investigation after abandoning his practice in Flushing, Queens, officials said.

Choy pleaded guilty in Manhattan Supreme Court Tuesday to two counts of second-degree manslaughter, five counts of second-degree reckless endangerment and 27 counts of criminal sale of a prescription for a controlled substance, said New York City Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan in a news release.

He is scheduled for sentencing Sept. 10, Brennan said, and is expected to receive a 7-year prison sentence under the terms of his plea deal.

Choy was charged with second-degree manslaughter in the deaths of Michael Ries, 30, of Hauppauge and Eliot Castillo, 35, of Jamaica, Queens. Ries died on March 23, 2014, and Castillo died on Feb. 23, 2013. Both men's deaths occurred within three days of receiving prescriptions from Choy, prosecutors said. The five counts of reckless endangerment relate to five additional patients, including Dan Barry, a Suffolk County chef who died of an overdose on Jan. 15, 2016.

A licensed physician since 1981, Choy specialized in internal medicine and nephrology, the treatment of diseased kidneys. He operated a medical office at 142-20 Franklin Ave. in Flushing, prosecutors said.

Starting in 2012, he began issuing prescriptions for "dangerous levels of narcotics drugs in high-risk combinations with other controlled substances," Brennan said, including "a high number of prescriptions for the opioid painkiller oxycodone."

"This shift coincided with the filing of tax warrants against Choy for more than a million dollars in taxes owed," Brennan said.

After his arrest, Choy appeared in June 2018 in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, charged in a 231-count indictment.

"As word got around that he was pretty easy to give prescriptions, people came to seek prescriptions in exchange for cash," Brennan told Newsday last year. She said Choy pulled in several hundred thousand dollars from the scheme. Some patients later sold the pills for as much as $30 each on the street, investigators said.

Brennan said the three victims who died had legitimate pain-management issues, but apparently became addicted to their medications. Choy would sometimes prescribe his patients the "Holy Trinity" — three drugs, including one or more opioids, the anti-anxiety drug benzodiazepine and the muscle-relaxant Soma, Brennan said.

"All three drugs have the effect of suppressing respiration and heartbeat," Brennan said after Choy's 2018 appearance on the indictment. "When taken together, the risk of overdose death is much higher."

Officials said the five-year investigation of Choy began after Pennsylvania authorities noticed suspicious prescriptions written by Choy were being filled there. Eventually, the NYPD and Nassau and Suffolk police became involved, as well as the New York State Police.

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