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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Concord widow seized in raid as major pain-pill dealer

     

    A 31-year-old widow described as the largest prescription pain-pill dealer in the Southtowns — running what amounted to an illegal rural pharmacy — was busted Tuesday in her Concord farmhouse.

    An estimated 1,000 pills were found in prescription bottles in Chandra Zittel’s home — in the bathroom, on the microwave in the kitchen and in the bedroom, according to Erie Countysheriff’s detectives who raided the house with a no-knock search warrant.

    “”She is the pill supplier,”” Narcotics Bureau Capt. Gregory Savage said. “”No doubt about it.””

    “”There’s definitely going to be some disgruntled customers. They are going to have to find another supplier,”” Senior Narcotics Detective Alan N. Rozansky said.

    Zittel, who is unemployed, became known to authorities soon after her husband, Garrett, a member of a well-known Southtowns family, died of a heroin overdose in 2008.

    Detectives investigating the death passed information to sheriff’s narcotics investigators, suggesting they begin collecting information on her.

    But the mother of four young children became the focal point of a major investigation only a few months ago. When detectives received word that she was to receive a fresh supply of prescription drugs this week, they decided to make their move.

    Authorities say Zittel dealt with two or three physicians, conning them into prescribing pain pills for her that she didn’t need. When her prescription supplies ran dry, she traveled toBuffalo and purchased more prescription opioids to keep her customers supplied, authorities said.

    She was selling as many as 1,000 pills a month, primarily opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, that fetched $3 to more than $20 per pill, authorities said.

    Sheriff’s detectives said this was another prime example of the extent of the problem described in a recent series in The Buffalo News.

    “”Rx for Danger,”” the series published last month, detailed the spread of prescription painkillers into the illegal drug market, leading to drug abuse, addiction and deaths.

    Western New York, the series reported, has become a hot spot for the most abused opioids — fentanyl, hydrocodone and oxycodone. Total prescriptions exceed the state average by 70 percent.

    Addicts and dealers often get the drugs from friends and families, steal them from pharmacies or con doctors into writing them prescriptions. A small number of doctors, the series also found, are part of the illegal marketplace themselves.

    “”It’s been dramatically increasing, and we are finally getting some attention. People think because these pills are manufactured by pharmaceutical companies that they are safe. But they are just as dangerous as a bag of heroin bought on the street when they are abused,”” said Scott R. Patronik, special services chief in the Sheriff’s Office. “”They take the pills because they are easy to obtain.””

    Zittel was accused of “”doctor shopping”” and manipulating Southtowns physicians to obtain multiple prescriptions. Some were filled at the expense of taxpayers through Medicaid.

    “”She has had surgeries in the past, and with surgeries comes pain, and she capitalized on that. She had medical documentation,”” Rozansky said in explaining how she was able to hoodwink doctors.

    Her primary customer base stretched from Hamburg through BostonSpringville and North Collins – even to Little Valley in Cattaraugus County, authorities said.

    “”She supplied hydrocodone, oxycodone, Lortabs, Suboxone, every prescription medication she could get her hands on over the last two or three years,”” said the lead detective in the investigation, who requested his name be withheld. “”Undercover police went to her house and made drug buys from her.””

    In addition to prescription bottles of methadone, oxycodone and hydromorphone, detectives said they confiscated crack pipes, heroin, hypodermic needles and Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug, at the home.

    Information on the multiple prescriptions found at Zittel’s home, authorities said, will be turned over to the Buffalo office the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s diversion unit for further scrutiny.

    Zittel refused to comment when approached Tuesday afternoon by The Buffalo News after detectives escorted her from her hilltop house at 10590 Old Trevett Road, not far fromRoute 219. But authorities said she had asked detectives if she could take a dose of methadone.

    “”‘I won’t be able to get any methadone at the holding center,'”” Savage said in quoting her when they raided her home. Zittel’s request was denied, though detectives said she would receive medication in the Erie County Holding Center.

    Authorities said Zittel is waging a legal battle to regain custody of her four children, who were not at the house when it was raided. The authorities said they do not know why she lost custody.

    Zittel was remanded to the holding center, pending arraignment. She was charged with multiple counts of felony criminal sale of a narcotic drug and criminal possession of a narcotic drug with intent to sell.

    Zittel’s companion – Charles Tucker, 29, of Hamburg – also was arrested at the house. He faces multiple counts of misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance.

    A couple of hours before the 12:35 p.m. raid, detectives nabbed Douglas Pasinski, 27, of Springville, one of Zittel’s customers, who reportedly had purchased Xanax, then got into a car that raced away from her home at a high rate of speed.

    Deputies said that, when they stopped the vehicle, they found Pasinski’s toddler daughter in the back seat without a seat belt or child safety seat.

    He was charged with misdemeanor drug possession and endangering the welfare of his child. Deputies noted Pasinski is on probation for a felony burglary conviction.

    Road patrol deputies in the Southtowns, Rozansky said, also played an important role in shutting down Zittel’s rural drug store.

    “”They passed information along to us as we were monitoring her,”” he said.

    Detectives said they could not stress enough how widespread prescription painkiller abuse has become.

    As deputies prepared for Tuesday’s raid, two 17-year-old girls were brought into the sheriff’s Springville substation for possession of Lortabs, a brand name for hydrocodone.

    “”We received a call from someone on a school bus that the two girls had just crushed the Lortabs and were getting ready to snort them,”” Rozansky said.

    One of the girls, both Pioneer Central School District students en route to Baker Road Alternative School, told Deputies Jim Flowers and David Barbaritz she had stolen the Lortabs from her mother’s medicine cabinet. Someone on the school bus with the girls tipped off authorities.

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