Federal agents have arrested 27 people in connection with a prescription drug ring operating throughout Eastern Pennsylvania. Officials with the U.S. Department of Justice report that the operation is responsible for illegally distributing more than 380,000 thousand pills over two years, taking in more than $3 million.
According to authorities, the group had been using illegal and forged prescriptions to obtain the painkiller oxycodone.
One of the suspects worked in a doctors’ office, and the group is accused of paying individuals to pose as patients to acquire drugs for resale. The doctor’s office employee allegedly also used her employers’ prescription pad without their knowledge to forge prescriptions. The group then repackaged and sold the prescription drugs on the street, according to officials.
Speaking at the news conference in PhiladelphiaTuesday, Drug Enforcement Administration special agent David Dongilli stressed the dangers of using oxycodone without a legitimate prescription.
“There’s a dangerous misunderstanding about the safety of prescription drugs. People think that because they’re created by a laboratory or in a controlled setting, that they’re somehow safer than illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine,” he said. “People could not be more wrong.”
Abuse of prescription drugs such as oxycodone is on the rise in the U.S. Nearly seven million Americans are reportedly addicted to prescription drugs — a problem that especially plagues teenagers.
Oxycodone can pose serious health risks to those who abuse it, and nearly 15,000 people per year die of overdoses, according to the CDC.
Diverting prescription drugs from patients who need them to illegal drug dealing also has broad impacts on health care.
“Aside from the obvious brutal casualties caused by prescription drug diversion, there is a theft of millions of dollars associated with insurance fraud schemes … they’re continuing to erode the trust in our health care system,” said Nick DiGiulio, special agent-in-charge from the Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General.
The twenty-seven arrested face prison time ranging from 33 months to life.