‘Drug dealer in white coat’ — NJ charges doctor, 16 others in painkiller pill ring
An Essex County doctor and 16 members of an alleged drug ring in Atlantic County have been arrested and charged with distribution of drugs.
Dr. Craig Gialanella, of North Caldwell, is accused of selling hundreds of prescriptions for the opioid painkiller oxycodone and the anti-anxiety drug Xanax to 16 members of the drug ring.
State Attorney General Chris Porrino announced the arrests as part of Operation Oxy Highway, an ongoing investigation by the Prescription Fraud Investigation Strike team.
He said Gialanella, known as Dr. G, allegedly wrote over 400 suspicious prescriptions last year, for 50,000 high-dose oxycodone pills in the names of dozens of people in Atlantic County, at least a hundred miles from his office in Belleville.
Porrino also noted between January 2014 and 2017 the defendant issued scripts for 350,000 oxycodone 30 mg tablets.
He said not every one of those prescriptions were necessarily bogus, but each one of those pills have a street value of $20, so the total street value of the medicines he wrote prescriptions for was $7 million.
Three defendants allegedly led the drug ring in Atlantic County:
- Mary Connolly, of Egg Harbor Township
- Doug Patterson, of Egg Harbor Township, her ex-husband
- Lauren Connolly, of Egg Harbor Township, Connolly’s daughter
The following were charged with distribution of narcotics and/or conspiracy to distribute narcotics:
- Danielle Grainger, 33, of Linwood
- William Warren, 51, of Egg Harbor Township
- Francis Clemson, 53, of Ocean View
- Ashton Funk, 35, of Northfield
- Theodore Gogol, 37, of Margate
- Beatriz Oquendo, 34, of Pleasantville
- Amanda Blomdahl, 37, of Somers Point
- Kevin Reid, 47, of Ventnor
- David Blocker, 49, of Galloway
- Joseph Green, 39, of Atlantic City
- Christopher Perez, 34, of Mays Landing
- John Hager, 39, of Deptford
Porrino said Dr. G charged each alleged member of the drug distribution ring $50 to $100 dollars for an office visit, which usually did not involve an exam or treatment, but it did include giving the individuals multiple prescriptions for opioid painkillers and Xanax, and he would often leave the date of birth on the prescription blank.
“By using different dates and altering their names, the accused drug dealers tried to avoid detection by New Jersey’s Prescription Monitoring program,” he said.
Porrino noted this isn’t the first doctor to be arrested in New Jersey for this type of activity.
“We have charged numerous physicians with illegally distributing opioid pain pills, one of those doctors received a 5 year prison sentence."
In the last few years, six doctors have been charged criminally, and Porrino stressed this is certainly not an isolated problem.
“We have a number of investigations underway that are ongoing. I don’t know that I can characterize any of it as the tip of the iceberg. I certainly hope that’s not the case, but we’re running down leads every day.”
Porrino added other physicians who may be involved in this type of activity should keep a few things in mind.
“If you are breaking the rules and you’re trying to put some extra cash in your pocket, we are coming for you and we will find you,” he said.
He noted “8 out of 10 heroin addicts walking the street became addicted through the use of prescription painkillers, whether they were prescribed to someone because they themselves had a legitimate problem for which they needed painkillers, or whether they were diverted.”
Porrino pointed out nearly 1,600 people died from drug overdoses in New Jersey in 2015, and for the first six months of 2016 there were more than a thousand OD deaths from opioids.
“Based on those numbers the total number of overdose deaths during the first six months of last year was up 41 percent,” he said.
“Doctors who hand out illegal prescriptions for addictive opioid painkillers are no better than street corner drug dealers, and in many ways a doctor who violates the rules and illegally hands out opioid painkillers is worse than a street corner drug dealer.”
He said “a doctor is someone who you’re supposed to be able to trust, and these doctors are drug dealers in white coats.”
Porrino vowed: “wW are going to continue to be aggressive, we’re going to continue to use all of the resources that we have available and all of the tools that we have in our tool box to root them out."
He said investigators first became aware of the alleged illegal activity of Dr. G after a pharmacist reported several residents in Atlantic County may have been using the doctor to get their hands on large quantities of narcotics.
He said to make that kind of reporting easier and to encourage it, a web portal has been created on the Department of Community Affairs website, and as part of the prescription monitoring program.
“We’re urging pharmacists to come forward and to provide us with information about what they deem to be suspicious activity,” he said.
“It’s no different than a bank teller who sees large cash transactions over a period of time is required to file a suspicious activity report,” he said.
“The pharmacists are the individuals with boots on the ground, they’re seeing the flow of these prescription forms come across their desks, they are in a really favorable position to help identify individuals and doctors who are abusing the system.”
Porrino added, “I’ve written to every pharmacist across the State of New Jersey to encourage them to utilize these new reporting mechanisms.”
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com
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