OCT 02 (SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — Brandon Savaloja, 27, of Orangevale, was sentenced today by United States District Judge John A. Mendez to one year and nine months in prison for conspiring to distribute hydrocodone, Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams and United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced. Hydrocodone is an opiate pain reliever found in such common medications as Vicodin, Norco, and Lortab.
According to court documents, Savaloja conspired with Raymond Reyes, 29, of Lincoln, and others to distribute hydrocodone in Sacramento, Placer, Sonoma, San Joaquin, and Yuba Counties. On March 28, 2012, Reyes was sentenced by Judge Mendez to four years and nine months in prison for conspiring to distribute hydrocodone and aggravated identity theft. The Placer County District Attorney’s Office has obtained at least 11 other convictions related to this scheme.
According to court documents, in 2006, Reyes worked for a Sacramento area cardiologist as a licensed medical assistant. Reyes used the doctor’s Drug Enforcement Administration registration number to call in fraudulent prescriptions for hydrocodone using the names of patients. Savaloja and other conspirators would pick up the hydrocodone from the pharmacy, and Reyes would sell the pills.
On July 29, 2009, Savaloja was arrested following a prescription pickup outside of a pharmacy. In a recorded interview with law enforcement on the same date, Savaloja admitted he worked for Reyes for at least the last six months and had helped him pick up numerous prescriptions. He said Reyes was paying him $100 a bottle to arrange prescription pickups. Savaloja also made several pickups in his own name for Reyes. At sentencing today, Savaloja said that his own drug addiction had led him to break the law.
The State of California requires pharmacies to report all prescriptions of Schedule II and III controlled substances to an electronic reporting database (the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES). The CURES database shows that approximately 508 prescriptions for hydrocodone (totaling approximately 97,000 pills) were distributed by approximately 89 pharmacies under the purported authority of the doctor for whom Reyes worked during the conspiracy. Savaloja admitted responsibility for at least 5,000 of those pills. CURES logged the date of each prescription, the number of pills, and the purported patient to whom the pills were distributed. The names of approximately 74 purported patients were used, often without knowledge or consent of the persons to whom those names actually corresponded.
Hydrocodone is one of the most commonly abused prescription drugs, often with deadly consequences. According to the Sacramento County Coroner, in 2007 there were 15 deaths in Sacramento County with drug toxicity listed as the cause of death. That number dropped slightly in 2008 and 2009 and then rose sharply in 2010 to 67 such deaths. In 2011, there were 95 such deaths, and the increased number is largely attributable to the abuse of prescription drugs such as hydrocodone.
According to U.S. Attorney Wagner, “Prescription drugs, when responsibly prescribed and used as directed, are a great benefit to our society. However, the abuse of these same drugs has occasioned a public health crisis so serious that the Center for Disease Control has classified it as an epidemic. My office is dedicated to prosecuting illegal dealers of prescription drugs. We are also working to reduce the illicit demand for such drugs through education.”
On September 20, 2012, the United States Attorney’s Office convened a summit to address teen prescription drug abuse in the Sacramento region. At that summit, Mr. Wagner announced the creation of an Action Committee on Teen Prescription Drug Abuse, with membership composed of federal, state and local governmental agencies, schools, nonprofits, and other interested stakeholders. Over the next year, this Action Committee will seek to educate the public about how to prevent prescription drug abuse.
This case is the product of an investigation by the Sacramento Resident Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Auburn Police Department, the Rocklin Police Department, the Lincoln Police Department, and the California Department of Justice. Assistant United States Attorney Daniel S. McConkie prosecuted the case.
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