updated 11/11/2004 7:01:10 PM ET 2004-11-12T00:01:10

More than a dozen reputed street gang members, organized crime associates, pharmacists and college students have been arrested for their parts in an alleged ring that sold the powerful painkiller OxyContin in the Boston area, authorities said Thursday.

The ring moved tens of thousands of pills, which sold for $80 to $100 apiece, authorities said. It took in about $150,000 a week and had been operating for over a year.

“No one expects there to be a connection between organized crime figures, street gang members and college students,” Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow said. “They do make strange bedfellows.”

Authorities arrested 14 suspects in New Jersey, two in Massachusetts and one in Arizona on Wednesday and Thursday. Additional arrests were expected.

The alleged ringleader, Louis Gallicchio, 64, of Newark — described by detectives as a Lucchese crime family associate — befriended street gang members and recruited them to be runners, delivering shipments of pills bought illegally from two pharmacies in Newark, officials said.

Prescriptions real and fake
Buyers in Massachusetts allegedly included three college students, two of whom had been taken into custody.

Gallicchio’s main supplier was Clara Lightsey, 46, of East Orange, who allegedly obtained both legitimate and fake prescriptions to buy the drugs from two pharmacists, said Robert Buccino, Union County’s chief of detectives.

When arrested, she had over 20,000 OxyContin pills in her possession and a .25-caliber handgun stuffed into her bra, Buccino said.

Most of those arrested were being held on bail ranging from $100,000 to $1 million. Arraignments were scheduled for Monday. It could not immediately be determined if any of them had hired lawyers.

Pain breakthrough in 1996
OxyContin was initially hailed as a breakthrough in the treatment of severe chronic pain when it was introduced in 1996. The drug has become a problem in recent years, however, after drug abusers discovered that crushing the time-release tablets and snorting or injecting the powder yields an immediate, heroin-like high.

The drug has been implicated in more than 100 overdose deaths nationwide.

Prescription painkillers such as OxyContin now rank second to marijuana as the most-abused drugs in the country, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.

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