NEWARK — Patients would travel long distances to see “Dr. G,” driving more than 100 miles up the Garden State Parkway to his medical practice in Belleville, authorities claim.
He allegedly made it worth the trip, writing painkiller prescriptions two to five at a time and renewing them every month. In 2016 alone, according to New Jersey’s attorney general, Craig Gialanella wrote 413 prescriptions for approximately 50,000 pills in the names of 30 people from Atlantic County.
Gialanella, 53, was arrested this week on drug distribution charges along with 16 others after a state investigation dubbed Operation Oxy Highway determined they had created an oxycodone pipeline down the parkway.
His arrest comes as authorities in New Jersey grapple with a spiraling overdose death rate fueled in large part by the illicit trade in prescription drugs. State officials say eight out of 10 heroin addicts in the Garden State started out as opioid prescription patients.
“Doctors who hand out illegal prescriptions for addictive opioid painkillers are no better than street corner drug dealers,” state Attorney General Christopher Porrino said at a Wednesday press conference announcing the arrests.
Reached by phone, Gialanella, who was released pending court proceedings, said he had “no comment” before hanging up on a reporter. His attorney could not be reached.
Authorities claim the North Caldwell resident conspired with a family of drug dealers from Egg Harbor Township to distribute the opioid painkiller and other prescription drugs in southern New Jersey for as much as $25 a pill.
Mary Connolly, 54, was charged with conspiracy and drug distribution along with her ex-husband Douglas Patterson, 53, and daughter Lauren Connolly, 28, for allegedly running the Atlantic County drug ring.
The three could not immediately be reached and it was unclear Wednesday whether they had retained attorneys.
According to the attorney general, the trio enlisted the help of 13 others, including Mary Connolly’s son, 31-year-old Robert Connolly, who face lesser charges for their alleged roles in the enterprise.
Also charged were:
* Danielle Grainger, 33, of Linwood
* William Warren, 51, of Egg Harbor Township
* Francis Clemson, 53, of Ocean View
* Ashton Funk, 35, of Northfield
* Theodore Gogol, 37, of Margate
* Beatriz Oquendo, 34, of Pleasantville
* Amanda Blomdahl, 37, of Somers Point
* Kevin Reid, 47, of Ventnor
* David Blocker, 49, of Galloway
* Joseph Green, 39, of Atlantic City
* Christopher Perez, 34, of Mays Landing
* John Hager, 39, of Deptford
Many of the accused were themselves addicts, Porrino said, and at least one of the defendants overdosed during the course of their investigation and had to be saved by first responders using Narcan.
Porrino’s office on Wednesday also released new drug overdose figures showing overdoses were up 41 percent in the first six months of 2016 from the same period the previous year.
The attorney general said the Atlantic County pill pipeline was uncovered by a local pharmacist who noticed Patterson and other customers were using Gialanella, a general practitioner from the other end of the state, for a large number of painkiller prescriptions.
The pharmacist looked closer and found Patterson himself was using multiple dates of birth to avoid being flagged in the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program, an oversight tool meant to uncover overprescription, authorities claim.
State authorities began investigating the doctor and his far-flung patients, determining that Patterson had introduced Mary Connolly and other defendants to Gialanella, who provided them with oxycodone and alprazolam, more commonly known as Xanax.
Authorities allege Gialanella would charge the patients $50 to $100 per visit, which would last only a few minutes, and send them off with multiple prescriptions for as many as 180 pills at a time. Patterson would receive a share of the prescription for arranging the deal, they claim.
Following Gialanella’s arrest, authorities seized his medical records to look for further evidence of abuse, Porrino said.
“I can tell you the investigation is ongoing and we suspect this doctor may have prescribed illegally to other individuals in other counties,” he told reporters.
Gialanella is the sixth New Jersey doctor to face criminal charges from the state over the last three years, according to Elie Honig, the head of the office’s Division of Criminal Justice.
Porrino said his office was not engaging in a “war on doctors,” but would aggressively pursue “drug dealers in white coats.”
The office recently added a new section on the Division of Consumer Affairs website, njconsumeraffairs.gov, where pharmacists can confidentially report prescription drug abuse.
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