ALLAMUCHY TOWNSHIP, NJ (Warren County) – Four people were arrested, including the former registered pharmacist-in-charge, who allegedly conspired to illegally obtain and distribute the highly addictive opioid painkiller oxycodone out of Panther Valley Pharmacy in Allamuchy Township, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said.
It is alleged, based on prescription records, that more than 30,000 high-dose 30 milligram oxycodone pills – known as “blues” – were illegally diverted from the pharmacy through the criminal scheme, Grewal said.
Anny Chan, 51, of Clinton, formerly the registered pharmacist-in-charge at Panther Valley Pharmacy, was charged second-degree conspiracy, second-degree distribution of oxycodone, and fourth-degree distribution of promethazine. In February 2020, Chan entered a consent order with the State Board of Pharmacy to voluntarily surrender her pharmacy license, to be deemed a temporary suspension, pending further action by the board.
Milagros Santiago, 43, of Haledon, Jonathan Miller, 34, of Whippany, and Siraj Vickers, 39, of Tobyhanna, Pa were each charged second-degree conspiracy, second-degree distribution of oxycodone, fourth-degree distribution of promethazine, fourth-degree falsifying medical records, and fourth-degree falsifying or tampering with records.
Santiago was additionally charged with third-degree theft by unlawful taking.
The arrests were made between February 9 and February 23.
In September 2019, the investigating agencies received information from the Monmouth County Medical Examiner’s Office about suspicious activity at Panther Valley Pharmacy , which included oxycodone prescriptions being filled for a deceased individual up to a year after his death, and a drastic spike in the number of CDS dosage units being dispensed.
The investigation – including the execution of a court authorized search warrant on the pharmacy on Nov. 7, 2019,– revealed that Miller, Chan, Santiago, Vickers, and others allegedly conspired during the months of April 2018 through approximately October 2019 to illegally obtain and distribute oxycodone and promethazine by removing the CDS from the pharmacy under the guise of falsified New Jersey prescription blanks. The prescription blanks were allegedly unlawfully taken from St. Joseph’s University Medical Center in Paterson, N.J., and Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, N.J.
During the search of the pharmacy, approximately 167 falsified oxycodone prescriptions that ranged in date from April 27, 2018 to September 26, 2019 were recovered, as well as records and electronic devices. Subsequent review of seized cellphones revealed communications between a pharmacy technician and Miller, Santiago and Vickers. The communications showed that Miller and Vickers allegedly purchased the oxycodone and promethazine removed from the pharmacy and participated in the falsification of the prescriptions. Santiago, a pharmacy technician at St. Joseph’s Medical Center, allegedly stole prescription blanks that were used to falsify the prescriptions to cover the illegal distribution of CDS from the pharmacy. Chan allegedly agreed to allow illegitimate prescriptions to be filled in the pharmacy in exchange for payment.
“Oxycodone has long been the gateway drug for the opioid epidemic, which is claiming so many lives in New Jersey and across the nation,” Grewal said. “We will continue to prosecute the licensed professionals and other criminals who divert these opioid pills into our communities and cause so much addiction, misery and death, either directly through pill overdoses or by leading users to the cheaper and deadlier alternatives of heroin and fentanyl.”
“We’re fighting the opioid epidemic on all fronts in New Jersey, expanding prevention and treatment strategies while also aggressively targeting pill mills and street-level dealers of heroin and fentanyl,” Grewal said.
“Prescription drug abuse is a major driver of opioid addiction, and we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to combat the diversion of these dangerous drugs into our communities,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “I want to thank the Division of Consumer Affairs Enforcement Bureau, which provided substantial assistance in analyzing prescription records, including data from the New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program database, the DEA, and the Monmouth County Medical Examiner’s Office, which helped initiate the investigation.”
The New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program (NJPMP), operated within the Division of Consumer Affairs, is an electronic database that collects information from pharmacies on the dispensing of CDS – including opioids – to individual patients. It creates a record for the patient so that healthcare providers can understand a patient’s full prescription drug history. The tool aims to improve prescribing practices, target treatment to at-risk patients, and mitigate the risk of potential abuse or fraud by patients who obtain prescriptions from multiple providers.
“Battling New Jersey’s opioid epidemic is a top priority for the Division of Consumer Affairs, and the NJPMP is one of our most powerful tools in that fight,” said Kaitlin A. Caruso, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “In this case, information from the database revealed suspicious activity that, upon further investigation, uncovered the criminal activity that led to these charges. We are proud of the role our PMP and our Enforcement Bureau played in shutting down this dangerous illegal prescription drug enterprise.”
“Preventing prescription opioids from falling into the wrong hands is critical to ending the addiction epidemic,” said Sharon M. Joyce, Director of the Office of the New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies (NJCARES). “The NJPMP holds a wealth of information that can be used to help identify potential misuse and diversion of opioids and other controlled drugs that can lead to overdose and death. We encourage all health care professionals with access to the NJPMP to help fight addiction by integrating the database into their daily workflow.”
“Unfortunately, we see too often how prescription opioid abuse and addiction can lead to the transition to heroin and fentanyl use and overdose,” said Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s New Jersey Division Susan A. Gibson. “These defendants seek to profit on the pain and suffering of those addicted to prescription opioids, and every pill they sell can be one step closer to death to those that need help the most. We will continue to pursue those who choose to violate the law, especially those in the medical and pharmacy community who choose to violate their oaths.”
The second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to the $15,000. Fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.