New York prosecutors are waking up to a growing epidemic—the abuse of prescription drugs via a method known as “doctor shopping”. Doctor shopping is when a person visits numerous doctors and obtains prescriptions for addictive prescription drugs such as oxycodone, often paying in cash, and then selling the medication on the black market. One woman, Johanna Pecci, visited eight doctors throughout New York and obtained nine prescriptions for the drug which she filled at seven different pharmacies. She was able to get almost 1,800 pills through this venture—they had a street value in the tens of thousands of dollars—and she did it all in just eight days.
New York prosecutors recently arrested 98 people, including Pecci, two doctors and a nurse practitioner in a crackdown on this growing epidemic. The medical professionals prescribed hundreds of thousands of pills to people they knew were addicted to painkillers or were reselling them on the black market. The people who obtained the prescriptions only saw the medical practitioners for a few minutes and often paid $200 in cash for the prescriptions. The prosecutors revealed that the black market for these prescription painkillers now rivals the market for illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin. The arrests come after separate investigations conducted by both federal and state officials including Drug Enforcement Administration agents, New York Police Department investigators and authorities from Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island.
If you think that the black market is benign and involves soccer moms trying to make a little money on the side or professional athletes who get hooked on painkillers after suffering on-the-field injuries, think again. Almost one year ago, a Long Island pharmacy was robbed by someone searching for prescription painkillers. He shot and killed two pharmacy employees and two customers—on Father’s Day no less. The suspect later pled guilty to murdering the four people. He fled the scene of the crime with a backpack stuffed with prescription painkillers. He admitted doctor shopping in the weeks leading up to the murders.
Investigators discovered the scheme after searching through medical records which revealed an unusual increase in prescriptions written and filled for painkillers or an absence of proper documentation to back up the prescriptions. They also wire-tapped suspects and turned doctors’ employees into informants.
The investigators also sent undercover agents to the suspect medical practitioners. During one such visit, a nurse did not even perform a perfunctory examination of the agent posing as a patient before writing a prescription for oxycodone. Three weeks later, the same agent approached the same nurse and paid $450 to obtain more painkillers-no questions were asked.
Last month, one local district attorney released a grand jury report which called for sweeping changes in the law to stem the tide of the growing epidemic in prescription painkiller abuse. He likened the people who deal in these prescription medications to drug dealers.