NY prescription painkiller probe snags 98 suspects

Associated Press Modified: June 6, 2012 at 3:45 pm •  Published: June 6, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) — Narcotics investigators call it "doctor shopping" and say Johanna Pecci was particularly good at it.

During a monthlong odyssey through four of New York City's five boroughs, the 47-year-old Staten Island mother visited eight doctors who wrote nine prescriptions for oxycodone she filled at seven pharmacies, prosecutors said.

The effort netted 1,798 pills with a potential street value of tens of thousands of dollars — "not bad for eight days' work," Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan said Wednesday.

At a news conference, Donovan and other state and federal officials announced charges against Pecci and 97 other people, including two doctors — a crackdown they said illustrates how a thriving black market for highly addictive prescription painkillers now rivals those for cocaine and heroin.

"Prescription drug abuse is the silent epidemic of our time," Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said.

The announcement was billed as a joint initiative to combat the threat, though the charges were a culmination of separate, unrelated investigations by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the New York Police Department and authorities in Nassau and Suffolk County on Long Island.

It comes just weeks before the first anniversary of a Long Island pharmacy robbery that left four people dead. The killer, David Laffer, was in search of prescription painkillers when he gunned down two store employees and two customers last year on Father's Day.

The defendants named Wednesday include two doctors and a nurse practitioner, all on Long Island, who prescribed hundreds of thousands of pills to people they knew were either hooked on painkillers or were reselling them for profit, prosecutors said.

On each visit, the buyers typically saw the medical professionals only for a few minutes and paid $200 or more in cash, authorities said. Many of them already had criminal convictions for drug offenses.

Investigators uncovered the abuses through record searches that showed unusual increases in prescriptions written and filled or an absence of proper documentation. They also relied on wiretaps and doctors' employees who became confidential informants.

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