PINELLAS PARK — Authorities on Wednesday rounded up 21 suspects in a multitiered oxycodone trafficking scheme.
Narcotics detectives from the Pinellas Sheriff's Office, Clearwater Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration conducted the roundup, dubbed "Operation Oxy-Con."
The operation, which is targeting 52 suspects with 122 charges of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and trafficking in a controlled substance, began in December. Those not arrested Wednesday will be sought in the coming days.
The suspects are part of a Pinellas prescription drug ring that's gotten its hands on about 30,000 pills and made about $300,000 since November, sheriff's officials said.
"This is huge," said Pinellas Lt. Robert Alfonso, who said the bust is important in the fight against rising prescription drug abuse. "This is the new heroin. This is the new cocaine. It really is to that magnitude in Pinellas County."
Deputies got a tip about the operation months ago after a fraudulent oxycodone prescription was passed at a pharmacy, sheriff's officials said. Alfonso said the organization, which has been most active in central Pinellas, operated with three levels.
The group's top leaders coordinated everything and printed fake prescriptions from their home computers. Under them were "recruiters," who would find "runners" to take fake prescriptions into a pharmacy. Once they got the pills, they'd turn them over to the recruiters, who would give them cash or let them keep some of the pills. The bounty of the pills would be split between the recruiters and the top leaders to be sold on the street.
The fake prescriptions went unnoticed, Alfonso said, because the leaders used real doctors' names but replaced phone numbers with their own cell phone numbers. So if a pharmacist tried to verify a prescription, he was routed to someone in the drug ring, not a real doctor's office.
Kameel Stanley can be reached at (727) 893-8643 or firstname.lastname@example.org.