Health

New York doctor charged with 5 counts of murder for opioid prescribing practices

A New York physician is facing second-degree murder charges linked to his opioid prescription practices, according to Nassau County authorities.

George Blatti, M.D., 75, was arraigned March 4 before Judge Fran Ricigliano on five counts of murder in the second degree and 11 counts of reckless endangerment in the first degree, the Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a news release

Blatti allegedly ignored repeated warnings and prescribed “massive” quantities of opioids and other drugs that killed five patients and endangered the lives of six others, according to authorities. The patient deaths occurred between 2016 and 2018.

Blatti allegedly continued to prescribe the drugs to patients despite “explicit, repeated, and increasingly dire warnings” from family members and insurers who flagged the overprescribing practices, according to the indictment.

If convicted of the top charge, Blatti faces a potential maximum of up to 25 years to life in prison.

RELATED: Ohio doctor charged with murder in deaths of 25 hospitalized patients

“This doctor’s prescription pad was as lethal as any murder weapon,” Singas said in a statement. “We allege that Dr. Blatti showed depraved indifference to human life, total disregarded for the law, his ethical obligations, and the pleas of his patients and their family members when he prescribed massive quantities of dangerous drugs to victims in the throes of addiction, ultimately killing five patients who entrusted him with their care.”

“As we continue to battle the epidemic of opioid abuse that has ravaged our communities, this prosecution sends a strong message to any doctor seeking to profit from vulnerable patients’ addiction: we will hold you accountable to the greatest extent the law allows,” Singas said.

Prosecutors believe this is the first time a doctor has been charged under New York State law with murder in the second degree under the theory of depraved indifference to human life, the district attorney’s office said.

Blatti, a general practitioner originally licensed to practice medicine in 1976, had no specialized training or accreditation in pain management, the Nassau County DA alleges. The indictment claims he saw patients in his car and prescribed medication with no medical history review or patient exams. He also allegedly prescribed opioid painkillers to people he had never met or spoken to.

Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said the grand jury’s indictment of Blatti on five counts of second-degree murder “begins a historic chapter” in the ability to directly connect the physician’s pill-pushing to the deaths of five people.  

“These indictments should send a clear message to all doctors that they will be directly held accountable for their actions as they profit from individuals that are suffering from addiction,” Ryder said.

The Nassau County Police Department’s (NCPD’s) Asset Forfeiture and Intelligence Unit began an investigation into several opioid overdoses, both fatal and non-fatal, in August 2018. That investigation revealed that certain individuals had an inordinate number of prescriptions for opioids written by the same physician, Blatti. At that time, NCPD began working jointly with members of the DEA’s Long Island District Office Tactical Diversion Squad, according to Singas.

Blatti was arrested in April 2019 and arraigned on a 54-count indictment in October 2019. He voluntarily surrendered his medical license to New York State authorities on June 24, 2019 after this investigation began.

The Nassau County DA’s investigation was assisted by the cooperation of several victims’ family members. Investigators learned that Blatti “had many reasons to know and appreciate the deadly danger in which his actions placed his patients, and that he was aware through his own inquiries that several had died,” according to the press release.

RELATED: ‘Doctors on the Go’ owner sentenced to 9 years in prison for fraud, kickbacks

The indictment alleges that one 31-year old patient, a volunteer firefighter, struggled with opioid abuse dating back to at least 2008. Though Blatti was allegedly aware of the victim’s addiction, and had treated him with suboxone for five years, he later allegedly fed that addiction, prescribing large quantities of oxycodone.

The indictment claims that the patient saw Blatti in late November 2017, showing clear signs of a failing liver. For that condition, Blatti prescribed a diuretic and potassium supplement but also allegedly prescribed 180 oxycodone pills, which showed a “depraved indifference to his life,” the Nassau County DA said. The patient died 11 days later from acute intoxication of oxycodone and oxymorphone.

Blatti is due back in court on March 30. The indictment will be consolidated with a 2019 indictment based on the same underlying conduct, superseding the most serious charges, according to the press release.

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