The operation was based at a clinic operating under the name
Astramed in the city's Bronx borough, said officials, who described
it as a "pill mill." The clinic sold phony prescriptions to drug
dealers, who bought 5.5 million oxycodone pills at pharmacies around
the city and as far away as Florida, the officials said.
"This is poison by prescription, and the volume and money allegedly
involved would make hardened illegal drug traffickers envious," said
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
Astramed's owner, Dr. Kevin Lowe, collected nearly $12 million in
exchange for fake doctor's visits made by phony patients sent in by
drug dealers for three years between January 2011 and January 2014,
Twenty-four of the defendants were charged with conspiracy to
distribute and possession with intent to distribute narcotics,
according to a federal indictment unsealed on Wednesday.
One of the clinic's doctors, Robert Terdiman, was indicted
separately in New York State court for conspiracy and criminal
narcotic sales, authorities said, after he wrote eight oxycodone
prescriptions for undercover officers during the investigation.
He conducted no physical examination, and would prescribe oxycodone
no matter what response the officers gave to his cursory questions,
On weekday mornings, as many as 100 people would crowd the doors of
Astramed's main location, clamoring to see doctors who would
prescribe large quantities of the powerful narcotic painkiller in
exchange for cash, according to the New York City Office of Special
Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan.
The crowds grew so big that the clinic stationed private security
guards outside, federal prosecutors said.
Astramed describes itself on its website as a primary care clinic
offering services ranging from sonograms and weight management and
echocardiograms, but prosecutors described it as a pain management
PILLS A GROWING THREAT
Abuse of opiate pain killers such as oxycodone, morphine and
fentanyl is a rising concern in the United States. Problems with
abuse prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year to
propose stronger safety labels on some long-acting opiods.
[to top of second column]
The death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman on Sunday from an apparent
heroin overdose has drawn further attention to the drug. An autopsy
of his body was inconclusive, the New York City Medical Examiners
Office said on Wednesday.
The investigation into the Astramed clinic arose from a two-year
probe involving federal prosecutors, New York City police and the
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
One law enforcement source involved in the investigation called the
operation "one of the largest pill mills in the northeast."
Doctors at Astramed wrote more than 31,500 prescriptions for
oxycodone to high-level drug traffickers, who paid the clinic's
employees up to $300 for each phony patient's appointment, according
Attorneys for most defendants could not immediately be reached, and
attempts to contact Terdiman and Lowe at home were unsuccessful.
Some pharmacies in New York refused to fill prescriptions written by
Terdiman, but out-of-state pharmacies filled 20 percent of them,
according to papers filed in U.S. district court in Manhattan.
Officials said the accused drug traffickers would routinely
intimidate the doctors, and in one case, threatened a doctor at
gunpoint for not writing more prescriptions per day for patients
sent in by the suspected ringleaders, officials said.
(Reporting by Marina Lopes; additional reporting by Chris Francescani;
editing by Scott Malone)
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