Attorney general in Tampa to discuss prescription drug abuse
Nine doctors and two pharmacists were among 22 people caught in a federal drug sweep today Friday accusing them of illegally peddling prescription drugs.
The arrests were announced this afternoon when local, state and federal agents made arrests after federal arrests warrants were unsealed.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the crackdown – called Pill Nation II – at a news conference along with Michele Leonhart, Drug Enforcement Administration administrator, and U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill.
Holder said today's sweep and its initial namesake last year√ led to the arrest of 118 people; the revocation or surrender of 80 DEA certificates that doctors need to dispense controlled substances; the closing of 40 pain clinics; and the seizure of more than $19 million in assets.
"The days of easily acquiring these drugs from corrupt doctors and pharmacists is coming to an end," Holder said.
Holder said Florida is the epicenter of the nation's prescription drug abuse problem.
He said of 55 million pills of the pain killer Oxycodone sold nationwide, 85 percent of them were sold in Florida.
"This is having a devastating impact beyond the state," Holder said.
Holder said numbers of overdoses attributed to illegally obtained prescription drugs now are higher than deaths caused by street drugs like heroin and cocaine.
Holder credited cooperation among local, state and federal agencies in getting an upper hand on the scourge.
He pointed to a state law that took effect in September as an example. It bans dispensing pain pills at offices or clinics where prescriptions are written.
But he said that has led to a spike in the number of applications for new pharmacies, often by unqualified people.
Doctors arrested were Aimee Joy Martin, 35, of Bradenton; Sanjeev Grover, 48, of Tampa; John Anthony Gianoli III of St. Petersburg; Ronald John Heromin, 46, of Tampa and Miami; Ihab Barsoum of Pasco County; James Richard Shelburne, 74, of Tampa; Edward Mosley of Bradenton and Brandon; T.J. McNichol of Brandon; and Debra Roggow of Lee County.
The pharmacists were Paul Vincent Rivers, 40, of Polk County; and Youssef Saleeb, 27, of Winter Park.
Others were arrested, accused of sending the illegal pills from Pasco County to Kentucky.
Leonhart said Florida is providing illegal prescription drugs along the East Coast and into the Midwest. She said highways to the state are known on the street as "The Oxy Express" or "The Pill Pipeline."
She said recent arrests and education efforts are "turning the corner in the fight."
"We have turned up the heat on pill mills," she said.
Among those in attendance at the news conference was Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
She said she and the others will not let up on illegal prescription pushers.
"They are drug dealers wearing white coats," she said.