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Action News Investigation: White coat dealers, pill mills

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An Action News Investigation uncovers some of the biggest pill pushers today are wearing white coats. (WPVI)

An Action News Investigation uncovers some of the biggest pill pushers today are wearing white coats.

The DEA warns doctors, not the corner drug dealer, might now be the most dangerous peddlers of highly-addictive narcotic prescriptions.

The DEA says some of these doctors, who are driving Lamborghinis and stockpiling cash, are the biggest criminals responsible for getting people from the Main Line to the inner cities hooked on drugs.

And they say some shuffle patients in and out in a matter of seconds.

The DEA is now sharing this inside look exclusively with Action News.

"You're going to get the oxycodone right?" a doctor tells a patient in an undercover video.

"Yes. And Xanax, too," the patients says.

"Xanax. OK," the doctor says.

The pediatrician is one of what the DEA calls the 1 percent, a doctor gone rogue.

"You need methadone, too, right?" the doctor asks the patient.

"Um... yeah, sure," the patient says.

Undercover video reveals piles of prescription pads and a "patient" rushed in and out in under 2 minutes.

The doctor could be seen wearing a glove in the video.

"He's written so many prescriptions that his hands were starting to chafe ... he would wear a glove," DEA's Special Agent in Charge of the Philadelphia Field Division Gary Tuggle told Action News.

Tuggle says pill mills have become an epidemic with doctors licensed with medical degrees turning criminal, like the one seen in another undercover video who operates a makeshift "office" out of a Starbucks.

"So she asked me if I could get the script for her?" a woman tells the doctor in the video.

The "doctor" never even physically sees the second "patient," but he still writes a second potentially deadly prescription.

"That's 300 right?" the woman asks.

"Yes," the doctor says.

"And then 200 for me?" the woman asks.

"Yes," the doctor says.

Tuggle said, "The doctor who is illegally prescribing these medications is no better than the individual standing on the corner selling heroin."

The DEA estimates 80 percent of all new heroin users started by using prescription drugs. And approximately 47,000 people die from an overdose each year, more than traffic accidents and homicides combined.

"That's what I refer to them as white coat drug dealers," Tuggle said.

Tuggle says they are operating out of hotel rooms, parking lots and coffee shops with revolving doors.

Philadelphia DEA undercover agent, we'll call 'Jay,' is part of a team behind some of the biggest busts in our area.

"There's times I've been in there for less than a minute, 26 seconds. You see the doctor, he signs a prescription and hands it to you, and you walk out the door," Jay said.

His busts include Dr. Cynthia Masso, a former pediatrician at a local Children's Hospital who was charged with writing 496 fraudulent prescriptions to herself and fake identities to feed her own addiction.

"This doctor admitted to using up to 90 oxycodone tablets a day and still going to work treating children," Jay said.

And there was Chester County oral surgeon Dr. Chad Gretzula, who confessed to distributing narcotics out of his dental office.

"Fentanyl was being swiped from the vials and being replaced with saline solution," Jay said.

Their motivation?

"They're in this business for one reason and one reason only, and that's to make money," Tuggle said.

The DEA's busts have uncovered stockpiles of cash, luxury cars, and white coat drug dealers living a lavish lifestyle, whatever the price.

"Give me some more business for the end of the week," another doctor tells a patient in an undercover video.

"OK. Does it matter who it is?" the man asks.

"I don't care," the doctor says.

When asked if these doctors are killing people, Tuggle says, "They are. They are."

A visit to these doctors can cost anywhere from $300-1,000 cash.

Some of them even have "discount" programs where they will pay patients, up to $10,000, for referring new patients.

The DEA is involved in a major crackdown on pill mills, which they say is feeding a new and growing group of addicts.
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