More than 17,000 Prescription Pills – including Opioids – Stolen by Surgeon’s Assistant in Armstrong County
HARRISBURG — As part of a continuing crackdown on the illegal diversion of prescription drugs, Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced felony charges against an Armstrong County surgical practice receptionist who stole 17,917 pills, including nearly 9,200 opioid pain pills. The pills had an estimated street value of at least $80,000.
Susan Zoeller, 42, of Sunrise Drive, Leechburg, fraudulently prescribed drugs for herself, her husband and a neighbor over a period of several years. She is charged with a violation of the controlled substance drug device and cosmetic act, theft by deception and insurance fraud. Zoeller is the sister-in-law of the owner of Landreneau Thoracic Surgical Associates, PC, which is affiliated with Armstrong County Memorial Hospital. She was employed as a receptionist by the surgical practice for 20 years.
“The illegal diversion of prescription drugs is fueling the opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “Our arrests for these unlawful diversions are up 71 percent from a year ago and we’ve added resources to attack this problem. Whether you are a doctor, a physician’s assistant, or anyone, if you illegally divert prescription drugs, you’ll be prosecuted.”
Attorney General Shapiro noted studies showing that 80 percent of heroin users began their drug abuse by abusing prescription opioids. In 2017, Office of Attorney General agents have so far charged 206 persons for illegally diverting prescription drugs.
The investigation into Zoeller began in May after a representative from Armstrong County Memorial Hospital (ACMH) alerted Office of Attorney General agents that Zoeller had been processing prescriptions using the DEA number of an ACMH doctor and nurse practitioner — without their authorization.
The unauthorized prescriptions were discovered by the nurse practitioner, who found an insurance form for a prescription written in her name on an office fax machine, although she had not written the prescription.
The practitioner searched the Pennsylvania Health Department’s Prescription Monitoring program, and discovered the person who received the prescription had been receiving medications under the nurse practitioner’s DEA number for almost a year. The nurse practitioner knew the person was Zoeller’s neighbor, and reported the unauthorized prescriptions to law enforcement.
Zoeller admitted to police that she fraudulently prescribed medications to her neighbor and herself for personal use. Zoeller was fired from her position. Further investigation revealed Zoeller had used a doctor’s DEA number to illegally prescribe medication for herself and her husband for seven years. The doctor had not written the prescriptions for Zoeller or her husband.
“The Pennsylvania Department of Health Prescription Monitoring program played a critical role in this investigation,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “I want to thank the Department of Health for providing us with this essential tool in the fight against this epidemic.”
The attorney general also commended the nurse practitioner who uncovered the illegal diversions and notified the police. “We need everyone’s assistance in combatting this problem, and I’m asking all Pennsylvanians to join the fight,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “If you see something wrong happening with prescription drugs, please call my office or your local police department.”
Since Attorney General Shapiro was sworn into office in January, he’s made combatting the illegal diversion of prescription drugs a top priority. In addition to arresting 206 people so far this year – a 71 percent increase over last year – for diverting prescription drugs, Attorney General Shapiro has appointed Deputy Attorney General Bob Smulktis as the new Director of Drug Diversion to coordinate all activities in the office. Some of the diversion arrests this year have included a Scranton doctor, a Schuylkill County pharmacy assistant, an Allentown drug ring using stolen prescription pads, among many other cases.
Zoeller was arrested today and arraigned on the charges. Bail was set at $50,000. A preliminary hearing was set for January 19. Zoeller will be prosecuted by Senior Deputy Attorney General Jerome Orie.
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