(NEW YORK) — A New York City doctor has been charged in a scheme that contributed to the nation’s prescription drug abuse epidemic.
“Well over half a million oxycodone pills were illegally sold in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, fuelling the addiction of an untold number of people,” said Bridget Brennan, New York City’s Special Narcotics Prosecutor.
Dr. Hector Castro, his office manager Patricia Valera and four dozen others were charged with running what the DEA called an “extensive interstate network of narcotics traffickers” responsible for the illegal distribution of a half million oxycodone pills worth at least $10 million.
Between September 2011 and February 2013 court records say New Jersey pharmacies dispensed nearly 500,000 pills of oxycodone based on thousands of prescriptions originating from Castro’s Manhattan office. In New York, pharmacies dispensed approximately 75,000 pills based on approximately 600 similar prescriptions between August 2009 and January 2013.
The investigation into Castro’s alleged prescription sales began in late 2011, when an individual suffered a fatal oxycodone overdose in Middlesex, N.J., and authorities discovered a pill bottle with Castro’s name on the label at the scene. The deceased individual had received a prescription from Castro just a day earlier, authorities said.
Because so many of Castro’s prescriptions were being filled in New Jersey they failed to raise red flags for New York State’s Prescription Monitoring Program. However, the overdose and the high volume of street sales related to Castro’s prescriptions in New Jersey ultimately caused the doctor’s scheme to unravel.
“Seven thousand people begin misusing prescription drugs for the first time every day,” said Brian Crowell, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s New York office.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies prescription drug abuse as an epidemic, with roughly 100 people dying each day from drug overdoses, driven primarily by prescription drugs.
Castro and the others “targeted and capitalized on this deadly pain medication threat,” Crowell said.
Castro faces 39 counts of Criminal Sale of a Prescription for a Controlled Substance. He pleaded not guilty at an arraignment before Judge James Burke on Tuesday in Manhattan Supreme Court, where bail was set at $500,000 bond.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Sandra Gonzalez, CNN
AJ Willingham, CNN
Hailey Middlebrook, Special to CNN