Two Baltimore-area doctors flooded Maryland streets with more than a quarter-million doses of illegally prescribed painkillers and sedatives in recent years, compounding the state’s opioid epidemic, investigators said Thursday.
State and federal law enforcement officials announced the doctors have been indicted on charges of selling prescriptions for cash — one man allegedly dealing out of his Mercedes — in separate schemes that investigators said caused two deaths, attracted pill-hungry customers from as far away as Youngstown, Ohio, and transformed the grounds outside a North Baltimore clinic into an open-air drug market with unruly crowds.
“These are outrageous cases,” Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh said. “We hope they’re outliers. Unfortunately, the evidence in Maryland and around the country [is] there are others like them.”
Americans account for 5 percent of the world population, but consume 98 percent of narcotic painkillers Oxycodone and Hydrocodone, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
DEA agents partnered with local police and the attorney general’s office to build the cases against the doctors.
Dr. Kofi Shaw-Taylor, a 67-year-old urologist from Annapolis, was charged with 289 counts of drug offenses, Medicare fraud and conspiracy. In another case, Dr. Hasan Babaturk, a 60-year-old from Bel Air, faces 21 drug charges. Online court records did not list attorneys for the two men.
The two cases are among the first indictments from a new partnership of local police and federal agents working to stem the tide of overdose deaths in Maryland. Opioid deaths nearly tripled in the last decade, climbing from about 630 in 2007 to 1,850 in 2016, state officials said.
“The preliminary numbers for 2017 are just as bad,” said DEA Special Agent Karl Colder, adding that four of five new heroin addicts begin by abusing pills.
The pills themselves can be deadly, too.
A highly addictive narcotic, Oxycodone may be swallowed, snorted and even smoked for a high similar to heroin. Addicts sometimes mix the painkillers with sedatives, a sometimes deadly cocktail.
At least two men who had been prescribed Oxycodone at a Falls Road clinic where Shaw-Taylor worked overdosed and died, investigators wrote in the indictment. At the Westside Medical Group clinic, patients would buy prescriptions for hundreds of dollars in cash, they wrote.
“Westside attracted large and unruly crowds of customers who would loiter outside the business each day,” according to the indictment.
Some people traveled from Western Maryland, the Eastern Shore, Ohio and Leesburg, Va., buying hundreds of prescriptions from the doctor, investigators said.
Agents shut down the Falls Road pain clinic in April, and state officials suspended Shaw-Taylor’s medical license in June. He lives in an affluent Annapolis neighborhood, and federal agents said they discovered $80,000 in cash during a raid of his home. He’s also accused of selling prescriptions from Starlife Wellness Center in Glen Burnie.
Since the spring of 2015, about 400 people obtained more than 280,000 doses of Oxycodone with the doctor’s prescriptions, investigators said.
Shaw-Taylor, who was arrested Wednesday, faces a maximum of two life sentences because of the two deaths. He is being held in Anne Arundel County and is scheduled for a December jury trial in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.
Nine others — nurses, therapists and office workers — are accused of helping him, and also face drug charges.
Babaturk faces 21 drug charges after investigators said he sold prescriptions for Oxycodone, Fentanyl and Xanax, sometimes out of his car in Harford County. He would allegedly attend gatherings like Tupperware parties where guests would pay a cover charge to enter and buy a prescription from him, investigators said. He is in a Baltimore County detention center serving a year-long sentence after pleading guilty in January to a previous drug charge.
The indictments were announced a news conference Thursday in Baltimore. Colder, the DEA agent, offered a warning to any doctors writing fast prescriptions for cash.
“This is a start,” he said, “we’re going to go after anyone who abuses their authority.”
A previous version of this story misidentified Dr. Kofi Shaw-Taylor’s neighborhood in Annapolis. The Sun regrets the error.