The same day the biggest prescription painkiller “pill mill” for oxycodone in the Northeast was dismantled in New York City, one of the doctors under investigation mysteriously died at the home of Amherst relatives.
Dr. Tomasito Virey, 59, of Long Island, was found dead in a bedroom at his family’s residence the night of Feb. 4, authorities said. A prescription bottle containing oxycodone was found in the home, but whether that played a role in the doctor’s death has not yet been determined.
Amherst Police Capt. Enzio Villalta said toxicology tests are expected to provide insight into how Virey died, adding that the 5-foot, 11-inch, 260-pound physician had a history medical problems and his death might have been from natural causes.
“His cause of death is pending toxicology results and that usually takes five or six weeks, but we have not found anything suspicious so far,” Villalta said Friday.
On Feb. 5, a day after arresting 24 people affiliated with Astramed, a medical group with multiple clinics in the Bronx, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that the doctors in the group were accused of writing 31,500 medically unnecessary prescriptions for oxycodone.
That translated into five million pills of the highly addictive semi-synthetic opioid, with a street value ranging from $170 million to half a billion dollars.
No mention was made of Virey’s death at the downstate news conference, but members of the New York Drug Task Force later contacted Amherst police and informed them Virey had been a target of their investigation.
“The task force reached out to us,” Villalta said.
Virey, according to law enforcement officials, had met with authorities before his death, though there were no plans to arrest him at the time the clinics were shut down. The officials declined to say whether Virey was cooperating and might have known ahead of time about the Feb. 4 raids.
Details of Virey’s connection to Buffalo Niagara are limited, according to Villalta. “He has family here and we don’t know if he was visiting or staying here.”
The task force, which includes the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, State Police and New York City police, have alleged that as many as 100 people would gather outside Astramed’s main clinic waiting to see doctors for oxycodone prescriptions, and that many were fake patients recruited by drug traffickers, who arranged to have the prescriptions filled.
The “pretend patients” would pay $300 for a doctor’s visit that lasted a minute or two and then leave with the prescription. Dr. Kevin Lowe was identified as the owner of Astramed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report email: firstname.lastname@example.org