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N.Y. patients’ Medicaid drugs sold to dealers

Associated Press / December 6, 2010

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BUFFALO — Ethel Johnson couldn’t get her prescription for pain medication filled fast enough. The 60-year-old Buffalo woman was hurting — but investigators said that was not the reason for the rush. Her pain pills were allegedly destined to be sold on the street.

According to secretly recorded telephone conversations, the sooner Johnson could pick up her pills, the more quickly she could sell them to her dealer.

Johnson is among 33 people charged so far in a large-scale investigation into an emerging class of suppliers in the illicit drug trade: medical patients, including many who rely on Medicaid to pay for their appointments and prescriptions. She has pleaded not guilty.

For the first time, the Buffalo investigators devoted the kinds of resources normally aimed at street drugs — wiretaps, buys, surveillance, and cross-agency cooperation — to trace the drugs from pharmacy to street.

Often at no charge, the patients see a doctor, or several doctors, and get prescriptions for the narcotic OxyContin and other drugs they then sell to a dealer. If they are on Medicaid, the program is billed about $1,060 for a typical 60-pill, 80mg prescription, along with the $23 to $39 cost of the doctor’s visit.

A federal report last year estimated that 65,000 Medicaid beneficiaries in New York and four other states visited six or more doctors in fiscal 2006 and 2007 to get duplicate prescriptions for controlled substances. The cost to Medicaid was $63 million for the drugs alone.

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