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Long IslandCrime

Merrick doctor caused overdose deaths of two patients, feds say

Dr. Michael Belfiore, 51, in August 2016, who

Dr. Michael Belfiore, 51, in August 2016, who practices in Merrick, faces charges of causing the death of two patients by illegally prescribing oxycodone, federal officials said on Thursday, June 29, 2017. Photo Credit: News 12

A doctor practicing in Merrick has been charged with causing the death of two patients by illegally prescribing oxycodone, according to officials.

Michael Belfiore, 51, of Westbury, was also charged with 26 counts of illegal distribution of oxycodone, court papers said.

The patients, who died in 2013 allegedly as a result of Belfiore’s actions, were identified in the court papers as John Ubaghs and Edward Martin.

According to sources familiar with the case, Ubaghs was 33 and from Baldwin, and Martin was 43 and from East Rockaway.

Belfiore had been charged in 2016 with illegal distribution of a controlled substance to patients. The 29-count indictment did not mention any of the patients dying, and identified three of them only as John Does 1, 2, and 3.

A federal judge dismissed the indictment earlier this month on a technicality — the court papers failed to say there was no medical reason for Belfiore to prescribe the drug. The judge said the government could, if it wished, refile a case against Belfiore, and the U.S. attorney’s office said it would do so.

In the interim, medical examiners linked the deaths of Ubaghs and Martin directly to the oxycodone prescribed by Belfiore, sources said.

Illegal distribution of oxycodone carries a sentence of zero to 20 years. Illegal distribution of oxycodone causing a death carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 20 years and a maximum of life.

“Dr. Belfiore’s illegal distribution of oxycodone tragically caused the overdose deaths of two young men,” said acting Eastern District U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde in a statement Thursday. “Medical professionals who issue prescriptions without a legitimate medical purpose are violating the law and will be held accountable, especially when they cause the death of the very patients they have a duty to heal.”

Belfiore’s attorney, Thomas Liotti of Garden City, said his client did nothing wrong. Case law has ruled that a doctor is not responsible for what a patient does with medication after leaving a physician’s office, Liotti said.

Eastern District federal prosecutor Lara Treinis Gatz declined to comment.

In court papers, Liotti has argued that Belfiore is not guilty of illegally distributing oxycodone because “Big Pharma” — pharmaceutical manufacturers — has encouraged doctors, such as his client, to prescribe the drug because it is both effective and safe.

Earlier this month Nassau County civilly sued nearly two dozen pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, and several doctors, including Belfiore, for the money it has spent fighting the opioid epidemic.

That suit said the defendants were involved in a “sophisticated” campaign to turn a highly addictive painkiller that should only be used briefly after surgery to one that could be used every day.

At the time, Liotti said: “To put the blame on doctors who were really victims of a marketing campaign by Big Pharma, I think Nassau has it all wrong.”

One of the companies being sued, Purdue Pharma, said at the time of the suit, “Pointing fingers will not solve the problem, nor help those who are suffering. . . . We urge all stakeholders to seize the opportunity to work together so that collectively we can address this crisis.”

Suffolk and other municipalities previously filed similar suits against manufacturers of the drug.

When Belfiore originally was arrested in the case in 2014, an undercover detective said the physician had prescribed the drug with either the most cursory examination or none at all after the detective complained of pain.

Liotti said “an experienced doctor” can determine what patient needs are because there is no set standard for what examinations are required in diagnosing a patient.

Belfiore is scheduled to be arraigned Friday in federal court in Central Islip before Judge Joseph Bianco.

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