25 People Charged in 500 Million Dollar Painkiller Scheme

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painkiller scheme

NBC News

The Biggest Painkiller Scheme Yet

Two dozen people, including doctors were charged with involvement in a massive scheme that flooded NYC’s black market with as much as 500 million dollars worth in painkillers according to federal and state officials. 

The entire operation was based at a clinic that was operating under the name Astramed in the city’s Bronx borough. Officials described it as a “pill mill.” The clinic sold phony prescriptions to drug dealers, who bought 5.5 million Oxycodone pills at pharmacies around the city and as far away as Florida. 

“This is poison by prescription, and the volume and money allegedly involved would make hardened illegal drug traffickers envious,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

The owner of the “pill mill,” Astramed, Dr. Kevin Lowe, collected almost 12 million dollars in exchange for fake doctor’s visits made by phony patients sent in by drug dealers for three years between January 2011 and January 2014. 

24 of the individuals were charged with conspiracy to distribute and possession with the intent to distribute narcotics according to a federal indictment unsealed on Wednesday. 

Another one of the clinic’s doctors, Robert Terdiman, was indicted separately in New York State court for conspiracy and criminal narcotic sales. This was after he wrote eight Oxycodone prescriptions for undercover officers during the investigation. Robert Terdiman did no physical examinations, and would prescribe Oxycodone no matter what response the officers gave to his cursory questions. 

On weekday mornings, a 100 people ore more would crowd the doors of the Astramed’s main location, trying to see doctors who prescribe large quantities of the potent narcotic in exchange for cash. In fact, the crowds grew so  big that the clinic stationed private security guards outside. Astramed describes itself as being a primary care clinic, offering services that range from sonograms to weight management. They also supposedly offered echocardiograms. 

The abuse of opiate pain killers such as oxycodone, morphine and fentanyl is a rising concern in the United States. Problems with abuse of these drugs sparked the US Food and Drug Administration to propose stronger safety labels on some long acting opioids last year. 

The investigation into the Astramed clinic arose from a two year long probe involving federal prosecutors. One law enforcement source involved in the investigation called the operation “one of the largest pill mills in the northeast.”

The doctors at Astramed wrote more than 31,500 prescriptions for Oxycodone to high level drug dealers, who paid clinic’s employees up to 300 dollars a day for each phony patient’s appointment. 

Some pharmacies refused to fill prescriptions written by Terdiman, but out of state pharmacies filled 20 percent of them according to papers in the US district court in Manhattan. 

Officials said the drug traffickers would routinely intimidate doctors and in one case threatened a doctor at gunpoint for not writing more prescriptions per day for patient sent in by the suspected ringleaders.