It was not hard to tell when the doctor was in at the Staten Island office of Carl Anderson. Noisy crowds of people, some with visible signs of drug addiction, stood in long lines at all hours of the night, seeking prescriptions for oxycodone pills, the authorities said Thursday.
Sometimes, the noise outside Dr. Anderson’s office got so loud that it prompted neighbors to call the police, and more than once ambulances were called to treat pill-seeking patients, a series of new indictments show. Several patients, including two of his employees, overdosed and died, the authorities said.
Dr. Anderson, 57, was one of five doctors charged on Thursday with taking millions of dollars in return for prescribing oxycodone pills to purported patients with no legitimate medical need for them, according to the indictments and a criminal complaint unsealed Thursday in federal court in Manhattan.
Another doctor, Dante A. Cubangbang, 50, who helped run a medical clinic in Queens, and a nurse practitioner prescribed 3.3 million pills that were paid for by Medicare and Medicaid over a three-year period — making him the highest prescriber in the state, one indictment says.
“Instead of caring for their patients, these doctors were drug dealers in white coats,” said Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, in a news conference on Thursday.
“These are people who’ve taken an oath to help their patients,” Mr. Berman said. “They should be on the first line of defense to combat this type of opioid abuse and instead they’re part of the problem.”
A total of 10 defendants, including a White Plains pharmacist, were charged. They operated in Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx, as well as Long Island and Westchester, the authorities said.
The other doctors were Nadem J. Sayegh, 64, a physician with offices in the Bronx and Westchester; Nkanga Nkanga, 65, a Staten Island physician; and Anthony Pietropinto, 80, a psychiatrist in Manhattan.
Some of their operations were such well known sources of oxycodone prescriptions that they attracted customers from all over the northeast, said James J. Hunt, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York office.
Mr. Hunt said Dr. Cubangbang used a money counter in his office at the end of the day to tally cash collected from patients and divide it among his employees. “Similar to how a bank robber would divvy up the money after a score,” he added.
Dr. Cubangbang’s lawyer, Chris Cardillo, said, “We look forward to resolving the case.”
Dr. Pietropinto, the psychiatrist who saw people at night in a rented office on Fifth Avenue, wrote thousands of prescriptions for large amounts of oxycodone in exchange for $50 to $100 in cash per visit, the complaint said.
He instructed one patient who was reselling the pills not to fill the prescriptions at large chain pharmacies, like CVS or Walgreens, because pharmacists at those stores would raise questions.
Over about five years, Dr. Pietropinto wrote prescriptions for at least 600,000 oxycodone 30 mg. tablets to about 200 patients, according to the complaint. It said that for one person alone, he prescribed more than 12,000 pills in that time period, an average of about seven tablets a day.
“These allegations will be vigorously and zealously defended in a court of law,” said Dr. Pietropinto’s lawyer, Steven A. Metcalf II.
Dr. Nkanga’s indictment says he made hundreds of thousands of dollars writing unnecessary prescriptions for oxycodone and other controlled substances, and asked one customer, “How many people are you representing today?”
Doctors were also rewarded in other ways for the prescriptions, the indictments show.
One person typically paid Dr. Sayegh between $1,000 and $5,000 per visit, and in other cases gave him bottles of high-end whisky, expensive dinners and an all-expense-paid trip to Puerto Rico, his indictment charges.
Dr. Sayegh’s lawyer, Michael Bachner, said his client was “an outstanding physician and respected member of the community,” and “vigorously denies any wrongdoing.”
“We are confident that he will be acquitted of all charges,” Mr. Bachner said.
Lawyers for the other defendants either declined to comment, could not be reached for a response, or could not be immediately identified.
The pharmacist, Marc Klein, received free lunches and an all-expenses-paid trip to Atlantic City for him and his wife in exchange for filling prescriptions for one individual, according to his indictment.
When one person confronted Mr. Klein about his practices, he brazenly responded, “I guess you could call us licensed drug dealers” and “oxy pays the bills around here,” Mr. Berman said.
The government said 30 mg. oxycodone pills are popular among street-level drug dealers, with a street value of about $30 per tablet in New York City; a single prescription for 120 pills could bring a dealer $3,600.
The case is the latest in a line of prosecutions brought nationally against doctors, drug company executives and drug dealers that have highlighted the ways opioids have been aggressively marketed and have contributed to a national epidemic that killed tens of thousands of Americans last year.
In March, five Manhattan doctors were indicted on charges they took bribes and kickbacks from Insys, the manufacturer of Subsys, a spray form of the highly addictive painkiller fentanyl.
At the news conference, officials acknowledged each other’s agencies for their roles in the investigation But the New York Police Commissioner, James P. O’Neill, also thanked New Yorkers who had “called 911 to complain about noisy groups of pill seeking patients lingering outside one of these physician’s offices.”
“That’s how we keep making our way forward,” he said.
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