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Nine charged with running massive mail-order painkiller ring

Nine New York-area pharmacy owners, pharmacists and others have been arrested and charged with operating a mail-order drug scheme for oxycodone and other painkillers that netted them millions of dollars in illicit profit, federal authorities announced on Wednesday. 

According to a federal indictment, defendants Paul Wiseberg and Robert Kalaba of New Jersey used intermediaries to purchase pharmacies in New York and New Jersey in November 2011, then hired three licensed pharmacists -- Daniel Podell, Howard Hirsh, and Lawrence Zaslow – to fill painkiller prescriptions for patients who “had no legitimate medical need for the drugs.” 

Other defendants either acted as straw buyers of the pharmacies or recruited pain clinics in Florida in order to access patients "willing to pay substantially marked up prices for oxycodone and other pain killers," including hydromorphone, and morphine sulfate, it said.

The pharmacies allegedly filled "prescriptions for hundreds of thousands of pills,” charging between $6 and $9 per pill, according to the indictment. That meant a 28-day prescription containing approximately 158 pills, which would typically cost less than $200 at a retail pharmacy, could cost a patient between $948 and $1,400, it said. 

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"These nine defendants, including three licensed pharmacists, created and operated a ring for the illegitimate distribution of prescription painkillers on the East Coast, Preet Bahara, the U.S. attorney for Manhattan, said in a press release announcing the bust. “Prescription drug abuse is our nation's fastest-growing drug epidemic, and it is especially egregious when, as alleged in this Indictment, health care professionals perpetuate this danger to society." 

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and numerous local, state and federal agencies also participated in the operation.

It was not immediately clear whether the defendants had retained legal counsel.

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