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24 accused of distributing 5 million oxycodone pills in NYC

NEW YORK, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- Two dozen people have been indicted in New York City for the alleged illegal distribution of more than 5 million oxycodone tablets, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Federal authorities allege the prescription painkillers were distributed out of Astramed, a purported medical clinic with multiple locations in New York's Bronx borough, over a period of three years.

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The defendants include doctors and clinic employees accused of teaming with drug traffickers who sent "patients" who had no medical need for the painkillers their way, the Drug Enforcement Administration said in a release. The prescriptions were then filled at pharmacies and the pills were sold on the streets in New York and elsewhere, the agency said.

The DEA said 22 of the suspects had been arrested.

"Twenty-two arrests, the dismantlement of the largest pill mill in the northeast and the ability for residents living near Southern Boulevard and Westchester Avenue in the Bronx to reclaim their neighborhood from drug dealers are the end results of unified police work by local, state and federal law enforcement in New York," DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge James J. Hunt said.

New York U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara likened the trafficking in oxycodone to street drug dealers.

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"The world of prescription drug trafficking is looking more and more like the world of old-school trafficking in narcotics like heroin, cocaine and crack," Bharara said. "In this case, the drug spot was a clinic controlled by traffickers, often through intimidation and violence. The traffickers were supplied with prescriptions by corrupt doctors and clinic employees, dispensed to lower-level 'pretend' patients so that massive quantities of oxycodone could be distributed wherever the most money could be made, often in communities hundreds of miles away.

"This is poison by prescription, and the volume and money allegedly involved would make hardened illegal drug traffickers envious -- over 31,000 medically unnecessary oxycodone prescriptions for 5.5 million tablets sold with a street value between $170 million and over half a billion dollars."

The DEA said Astramed was owned and operated by Dr. Kevin Lowe, who it alleges reaped nearly $12 million in fees through the drug-pedaling operation from January 2011 to January 2014.

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