It was probably the presence of people from five district attorneys’ offices, three police departments and various federal agencies that served as a warning on June 6 that U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch would not be holding a normal press conference.
Lynch announced the arrest of 98 people including two doctors, in connection with a crackdown on the illegal sale and misuse of prescription drugs in and around New York City.
And while the numbers were impressive, they did not begin to tell the whole story. The investigations were numerous and massive, some dating back more than a year.
They involved law enforcement in all five counties in New York City and two on Long Island, as well as two agencies of the federal government, and reached into New Jersey.
And the cooperation among the local, state and federal agencies has extended beyond the arrests and pending trials, to what Lynch said will be a comprehensive prescription drug initiative in New York City and Nassau and Suffolk counties.
“Faced with the growing threat of prescription drug trafficking and abuse, this office and our partners have joined forces to coordinate our attack against a menace every bit as dangerous as trafficking in cocaine or other narcotics,” Lynch said in a statement released by her office.
“The stakes could not be higher, as reflected by the murder of four people last June during a pharmacy robbery in Suffolk County and the December shooting death of a federal agent who tried to stop a similar robbery in Nassau County,” she said.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said in the joint statement that nine people have been arrested in Queens in the last 12 months on related crimes, including forged prescriptions for oxycodone and the sale and possession of oxycodone, methadone and Klonopin.
The drugs related to the investigation all were manufactured legally and intended for legitimate medical purposes, such as chronic pain management.
But many are addictive, leading to a lucrative market for unscrupulous physicians and people who “shop” for doctors and pharmacies in order to get the largest amount of a given drug in the shortest period of time.
One ring, Brown said, involved three people who at the time of their arrests had nearly 300 highly addictive oxycodone pills, 14 forged prescriptions and nearly $7,000 in cash.
A recent grand jury report issued by Suffolk County DA Thomas Spota found a 900 percent increase in arrests for the illegal sale of prescription drugs in 10 years. In 2011 alone they accounted for nearly half of the county’s DWI arrests.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription painkillers are responsible for killing more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined,” Brown said, adding that it is essential for all levels of law enforcement to continue working together.
Representatives from the offices of Lynch, Brown and Spota declined to comment as to exactly how and how much the various agencies cooperated.
But applications for search and arrest warrants for Dr. Eric Jacobson of Great Neck, LI, whose office locations included Kew Gardens, and Dr. William Conway of Baldwin, LI, speak volumes.
Jacobson, the subject of two warrants, was investigated by federal IRS agents assigned to the US Drug Enforcement Agency’s regional task force. He first was investigated in the summer of 2011 after it was determined through regulatory agencies that he was one of the largest prescribers of oxycodone pills in New York State.
Agents interviewed former employees and confidential sources.
These included a Dr. John Doe, who said he was hired by Jacobson for $25,000 a month after Jacobson was forced to surrender his own DEA registration to dispense controlled substances during a DEA search of his office on Dec. 1, 2011.
Jacobson’s patients, whom the warrant stated seldom underwent more than a cursory medical exam and always paid in cash at the Great Neck office, came back seeking prescriptions that John Doe initially wrote on his own DEA registration number until he became suspicious of Jacobson’s motives.
Conway, whose arrest warrant was prepared by a Nassau County police officer assigned to the task force, first came to the attention of authorities from a patient who agreed to help them arrest Conway — including wearing a wire during a visit — in return for consideration from the Nassau DA on his own pending criminal charges.
The warrant states that two of Conway’s patients died of overdoses in 2011 shortly after receiving prescriptions from him.
The arrest of one medical professional involved sending in an undercover agent who received a prescription for chronic pain after little or no medical examination.
Read the Chronicle’s four-part series on prescription drug abuse from April 12 through May 3 at qchron.com.