Several people in New York including one Filipino doctor were yesterday charged with illegally prescribing millions of oxycodone pills to people who did not need the addictive painkiller.
ABS-CBN News identified the Filipino as 50-year-old Dante Cubangbang, a doctor who operates a clinic in Queens.
According to NBC News, Cubangbang prescribed more than 6 million oxycodone pills over the past 6 years, making him the top prescriber of the drug in the state of New York. These prescriptions, according to a statement from the United States Attorney’s Office, were paid for by Medicare and Medicaid.
Along with nurse practitioner John Gargan, Cubangbang “wrote approximately 19,000 oxycodone prescriptions for their purported patients” from January 2015 to May 2018.
The two prescribed these pills to “individuals [whom] they knew did not need the medication for any legitimate medical reason[s].”
Helping them run the whole operation were office workers Michael Kellerman and Loren Piquant. As office manager, Kellerman was responsible for collecting cash from patients who each paid US$300 (more than PHP16,223) for every visit, reported the New York Post.
At a press conference, James Hunt, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York office, likened Cubangbang to a bank robber.
“Dr. Cubangbang … would end his work day by using a money counter in his office to tally up the cash collected in patient’s visits and then divide them amongst office staff, similar to how a bank robber would divvy up the money after a score,” he said.
Cubangbang, Kellerman, and Piquant were charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, a crime that could see them end up in prison for a maximum of 20 years.
Cubangbang, Kellerman, and Gargan were additionally charged with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years; and money laundering, for which they could serve for a maximum of 20 years.
Also indicted for illegally prescribing opioids were doctors Carl Anderson and Nkanga Nkanga, both of whom ran a practice on Staten Island; Nadem J. Sayegh, who had clinics in the Bronx and Westchester; and Anthony Pietropinto, who worked in Manhattan.
One of Anderson’s patients, Arthur Grande, was also charged with selling oxycodone in the streets of New York.
According to Hunt, these doctors’ clinics have become well-known sources of oxycodone that they attracted clients from all over the northeastern United States.
During the press conference, Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, likened the doctors to drug dealers. He said: “We are in the middle of an opioid epidemic of epic proportions. These doctors were drug dealers in white coats…They did it for a very specific reason: greed.”
Also charged was pharmacist Mark Klein, who was paid by one client with free lunches and trips to Atlantic City for he and his wife, according to The New York Times.