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We discussed earlier this month how Michael Belfiore, a Long Island physician who was arrested after prescribing an undercover officer oxycodone without legitimate reason, had the charges placed against him dismissed without prejudice due to a filing error. Belfiore had been facing a potential 20 years in prison for overprescribing pain pills, such as OxyCodone, to numerous patients – many that didn’t require pain medication. The Eastern District U.S. Attorney’s office still planned to bring another indictment against Belfiore. This indictment, however, is much more serious than the one he had been facing prior.
Now, Belfiore’s indictment includes two counts of illegal distribution resulting in death. According to the indictment, Belfiore’s prescription of oxycodone to two of his Nassau County patients, Edward Martin and John Ubaghs, caused their death in 2013. If convicted, Belfiore will face a minimum of 20 years in prison and a $10 million fine.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent-in-Charge James Hunt remarked: “We hope the message is clear that law enforcement is zeroed in on opioid traffic, whether a dealer, or a doctor…There is no excuse for medical professionals to engage in drug dealing, especially when that dealing ends lives.”
It might seem impossible to point blame toward any one outlet – be it Big Pharma, corrupt doctors, or drug dealers – for the opiate abuse epidemic. But holding those individuals found responsible is most definitely a good start.
Abuse of pharmaceutical opiates, or painkillers, is an ongoing epidemic on Long Island and around the country. Who is to blame for this epidemic? Are patients themselves to blame for their misuse of these highly addictive medications? What about the pharmaceutical companies that incentivize doctors to prescribe patients their medications? Lastly, are medical doctors who overprescribe them perpetuating this epidemic?
One Long Island doctor of osteopathy, Michael Belfiore, had charges brought against him in 2014 for illegally prescribing oxycodone on Long Island. An undercover officer had paid Belfiore thousands of dollars for which Belfiore in turn prescribed oxycodone without a legitimate reason. Belfiore was facing a potential 20 years in prison.
But recently, the charges against Belfiore were dismissed without prejudice. Belfiore’s defense attorney pointed blame at associated pharmaceutical companies for deceiving him as well as the public about the safety of these medications and their addictive nature. This argument certainly aligns with that of the growing number of plaintiff lawyers who are filing suit against Big Pharma. But this defense was not what got Belfiore’s case dismissed.
Judge Joseph Bianco ruled Friday that Belfiore’s indictment failed to include necessary statutory elements – namely, Belfiore wasn’t just overprescribing these medications, but was prescribing them to patients who did not need them. It was this filing error that caused the case to be “dismissed without prejudice” – meaning the case is not closed permanently. In other words, the case was dismissed because of a “lack of specific language” used in his indictment. The Eastern District U.S. Attorney’s office does plan, however, to file a new indictment. So, Belfiore is not out of the woods yet. This isn’t a just a case of overprescribing medication. Belfiore was caught prescribing an undercover officer oxycodone without legitimate reason.
In the grand scheme of this epidemic, who do you believe is to blame? We stand behind the masses and believe Big Pharma should be held to the highest standards in how they market their medications. As for Belfiore’s case, it’s difficult to believe that an osteopathic physician, a physician whose focus is treating bone, joint and muscle pain, would not be aware of a pain medication’s addictive properties – particularly one as widely used as oxycodone.