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News Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 30, 2005

 

Former Pharmacist Who Illegally Dispensed Controlled Substances Is Sentenced

June W. Stansbury, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in New England and Kevin J. O'Connor, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, today announced that EDMUND FUNARO, JR., age 45, of Killingworth, Connecticut, a registered pharmacist, was sentenced on Friday, August 26, by United States District Judge Christopher F. Droney in Hartford to four years of probation for illegally dispensing controlled substances. Judge Droney further ordered FUNARO to serve the first six months of his probation in a halfway house, and to pay a fine in the amount of $12,500. Judge Droney departed from the Federal Sentencing Guidelines range of 78-97 months of imprisonment.

On November 21, 2003, a federal jury sitting in Hartford convicted
FUNARO, a co-owner and manager of Visels Pharmacy, of 714 Dixwell Avenue in New Haven, of 27 counts of an Indictment that charged him with filling prescriptions written by New Haven physician William J. Massie for addictive painkillers such as Percocet and Vicodin, and addictive anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax, Valium and Klonopin, even though FUNARO knew that Massie had written such prescriptions for no legitimate medical purpose. Massie, a general practitioner, operated a medical practice at 288 Dixwell Avenue in New Haven, several blocks away from Visels Pharmacy.

Under federal law, it is unlawful for a pharmacist to fill a prescription for a controlled substance if the pharmacist knows that the prescribing practitioner has issued the prescription outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose.

In January 2001, a federal grand jury charged Dr. Massie, his office receptionist Helen Umstead, two patients of Dr. Massie, William Calash and Paul Caponera, and four New Haven pharmacists, FUNARO, Konstantinos Melanidis, Frederick Santa, and John Wozniak, with participating in a prescription drug distribution conspiracy. At the time at issue in the Indictment, Melanidis was a pharmacist at Arrow Pharmacy on Dixwell Avenue in New Haven, Santa was a pharmacist at K-mart Pharmacy on Foxon Road in New Haven, and Wozniak was a pharmacist at Rite Aid Pharmacy on Ferry Street in New Haven. Massie died before the case could come to trial. Umstead, Calash, Caponera, Melanidis, Santa, and Wozniak all subsequently pleaded guilty to drug or fraud charges.
The evidence in the trial against FUNARO disclosed that between March 1998 and June 2000, Visels Pharmacy filled more than 3000 prescriptions for controlled substances written by Massie. A number of individuals came from towns outside New Haven, including as far away as Middletown, Meriden, and Waterbury, to get prescriptions from Massie that they filled at Visels. Approximately 96 percent of the controlled substance prescriptions written by Massie and filled at Visels were for a small handful of drugs: Percocet, Vicodin, Tussionex (a narcotic cough syrup), Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin, and their generic equivalents. In many instances, FUNARO filled prescriptions for controlled substances too early, that is, within the coverage period of a prescription for the same drug that the customer previously had filled at Visels. In many other instances, FUNARO filled prescriptions for controlled substances that were therapeutically duplicative, that is, within the coverage period of a prescription for another drug which had the same or substantially similar effect (for example, filling a Percocet and Vicodin prescription simultaneously).

The jury heard expert testimony that a pattern of such uniform prescribing, as well as early and therapeutically duplicative prescriptions should have put a pharmacist such as FUNARO on notice that Massie was operating outside the scope of usual medical practice and was writing prescriptions for no legitimate medical practice. Several former patients of Massie testified at trial that they became addicted to the controlled substances prescribed by Massie and dispensed by FUNARO at Visels.

This case was investigated by the State of Connecticut Drug Control Division within the Department of Consumer Protection, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Health Care Fraud Task Force, comprised of agents of the FBI, and the Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations. The Hamden Police Department also assisted in the investigation.

 

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