Prosecutors announced the arrests of nearly 100 people today, in a prescription drug abuse sting that swept across three boroughs and Long Island.
Many of the borough arrests were in Staten Island, a borough that city officials said is fighting a severe problem of prescription drug abuse.
Officials say pill addiction is increasing all over the city, but that that borough has an acute problem. The Health Department's Adam Karpati told the Staten Island Advance that the borough has been "hit the hardest" with prescription pill addiction.
And in testimony to the City Council in April, Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan said the number of prescriptions filled by Staten Island residents represented 29 percent of the borough's entire population.
Today's arrests netted 16 people on the island, prosecutors said – 10 were nabbed for charges like "doctor shopping," or going to various doctors to obtain more pills.
One Staten Islander allegedly got 1,798 30-milligram oxycodone tablets in a month by getting nine prescriptions from eight different unsuspecting doctors.
But some medical workers were in on the scheme, allege prosecutors: David Zaritsky, a manager of a Staten Island doctor's office, was arrested for forging oxycodone prescriptions, prosecutors said.
“These arrests represent a substantive change in how we are tackling the
prescription pill epidemic on Staten Island – by going after the
criminals who use doctors like drug dealers," Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan said.
Five people were arrested in Brooklyn, and nine in Queens, according to the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York.
Last month, the city started an advertising campaign aimed at Staten Island, a 30-second ad showing a doctor writing on a prescription pad and warning of the dangerous affects of painkiller addiction.
Several doctors were arrested in the sweep and accused of knowingly selling prescription drugs to people who are addicted:
- A doctor in Great Neck, Long Island, was arrested for allegedly helping distribute oxycodone to people he knew were reselling the pills to addicts. Even after he was barred from selling pills, he tried to enlist other doctors to illegally sell the drugs, prosecutors said.
- Another doctor in Baldwin, Long Island, issued 5,554 oxycodone prescriptions – amounting to 782,032 pills – between January 2009 and November 2011 – all to people he knew were drug addicts, allege prosecutors.
- And prosecutors say that between October 2011 and February 2012, a Brentwood, Long Island, nurse practitioner distributed prescriptions for 288 people, more than half with criminal histories, and a third who had criminal convictions for drug-related offenses.
How does drug addiction begin?
Caroline Sullivan, who works at drug and alcohol addiction treatment center Daytop, which has facilities in Staten Island, says the root of the problem is that most doctors don't spend enough time explaining powerful drugs to patients.
Several doctors' clinics have closed on the island, she said, pushing patients elsewhere. And overloaded physicians have less time for patient contact.
Patients are often uninformed of the perils of prescription pills, she said.
"People don’t mean to become addicted, but when they're not properly counseled on how to deal with the medication and then not properly monitored," they can become addicts, she said.
Other times, a harried doctor may simply be too busy to detect a patient is trying to collect prescriptions from more than one doctor.
At their programs around the city, they are seeing more young people, she said.
"We are seeing a rise in adolescents who are athletes coming in for treatment. They are playing through pain, they've been prescribed this medication, they take it. They're not rehabbing properly, and even after the prescription has run out, they're continuing to get it from their friends and becoming addicted," she said.