A Reisterstown pharmacist was arrested Tuesday morning on federal charges claiming he illegally sold more than 23,000 prescription pills. The amount is the equivalent of 63 kilograms of cocaine or nearly 28,000 pounds of marijuana, federal authorities said.
A six-count indictment, unsealed Tuesday, alleges that Ketankumar Arvind Patel, 47, used his Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy at 11813 1/2 Reisterstown Road to fill phony prescriptions for the anti-anxiety medication Xanax, along with thousands of Oxycontin and Percocet pills, both of which contain oxycodone.
Such painkillers are responsible for more overdose deaths per year than heroin and cocaine combined, according to the Baltimore office of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The regional agency also announced plans Tuesday to step up its efforts to fight prescription drug abuse through increased funding and multi-agency task force known as the Tactical Diversion Squad.
Carl J. Kotowski, assistant special agent in charge of the Baltimore office of the DEA, said the indictment was intended to send a "clear message" to pharmacists who would illegally sell prescription drugs.
"You'll be arrested and prosecuted like any other drug dealer," he said. "You will lose your license, and you risk losing your business and other assets."
Patel could receive a combined maximum sentence of 86 years in prison if convicted on all counts, and he and his business, Deepa Inc., could be subject to fines totaling more than $26 million.
The government is seeking forfeiture of $310,170 worth of alleged criminal proceeds, which could include Patel's Eldersburg house, his company and funds held in numerous bank accounts.
Officers already seized $50,000 in cash, two handguns and two cars from Patel's home: a 2008 Acura and a 2006 Porsche registered in his father's name.
Patel appeared in Baltimore U.S. District Court Tuesday afternoon, dressed in jeans and sneakers. His wife, son and father sat in the front row behind him. They declined to comment. Patel was held overnight, pending a detention hearing scheduled today.
According to the DEA, nearly 7 million Americans are addicted to prescription medications, often obtained through forged documents, the Internet, theft or by "doctor shopping."
Abusers are often white-collar professionals or "soccer moms" who perceive the pills as somehow less harmful than street drugs, said Dr. Lee Tannenbaum of the Bel Air Center for Addictions.
"There's totally a different perception that these are safe and OK to be used," he said. But, he added, "it's exactly the same type of addiction as heroin. ... These are super-potent drugs that really need to be much more tightly regulated."
The investigation into Patel's activity began in March after a confidential source admitted to buying fraudulent prescriptions from him for more than a year, authorities said. The source set up more buys on behalf of law enforcement, acquiring $12,000 worth of drugs with federal money.