Using prescription blanks stolen from hospitals in Bergen and Passaic counties, a crew used a single pharmacy to get its hands on 30,000 high-dose oxycodone pills, including a year’s worth of painkillers prescribed to a dead man, authorities charged.
The volume eventually gave them away, state and federal law enforcement officials said.
Milagros Santiago, 43, of Haledon, was working as a pharmacy technician at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson when she swiped prescription blanks, state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said.
The forged blanks were then filled at Panther Valley Pharmacy in Allamuchy, where co-defendant Anny Chan, 51, of Clinton (inset photo above) was the pharmacist-in-charge, Grewal said.
Blanks were also stolen from Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, he added.
Before the crew was through, more than 30,000 oxycodone “blues” of 30mg each were illegally diverted from the pharmacy, the attorney general said.
State investigators took a closer look after the Monmouth County Medical Examiner’s Office alerted them to “suspicious activity” at the pharmacy in Warren County.
It included a “drastic spike” in the number of drugs being sold there, not to mention oxy scripts being filled for a man up to a year after his death, Grewal said.
State investigators who raided the pharmacy in November 2019 learned of the racket being run by Chan, Santiago and others “to illegally obtain and distribute oxycodone and promethazine,” he said.
Authorities recovered 167 falsified oxycodone prescriptions from the pharmacy that were written from April 27, 2018 to September 26, 2019, as well as records and electronic devices, Grewal said.
Data pulled from the devices provided incriminating exchanges between an unidentified pharmacy technician and three of the defendants – Santiago, Jonathan Miller, 34, of Whippany, and Siraj Vickers, 39, of Tobyhanna, PA, the attorney general said.
All three and Chan are charged with conspiracy and drug dealing. Santiago, Miller and Vickers are charged with falsifying medical records and falsifying or tampering with records. Santiago is also charged with theft.
Chan agreed to a temporary suspension of her license by the State Board of Pharmacy a year ago pending the outcome of the case, records show.
Both the state and federal governments have been tightening oversight and boosting enforcement of prescription opioid abuse, which can often lead to the cheaper and more lethal street alternatives, heroin and fentanyl.
Every prescription pill that unscrupulous thieves sell “can be one step closer to death to those that need help the most,” said Susan A. Gibson, the special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s New Jersey Division.
Grewal credited the state Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs’ Enforcement Bureau and the DEA’s New Jersey Tactical Diversion Squad in Newark for the investigation leading to the arrests and charges.
The Monmouth County Medical Examiner’s Office also provided “critical assistance,” he said.
Deputy Attorney General Heather Hausleben is prosecuting the case, Grewal said.
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