Dr. Z was Dr. X, says narc prosectuor


BY YANNIC RACK  |  Chinatown-area doctor is accused of illegally selling Xanax prescriptions worth millions, according to authorities.

Bridget Brennan, the city’s special narcotics prosecutor, announced on July 28 that Dr. Mengjia Zhao dispensed up to $4.6 million worth of the addictive anti-anxiety medication onto the black market.

Zhao, who kept a practice at 109 Lafayette St., was charged with illegally selling 28 prescriptions for alprazolam, known by brand name Xanax, as well as selling the pills themselves on five occasions.

The internist was busted at J.F.K. late on July 27, according to the prosecutor’s office.

The arrest followed a lengthy investigation launched in 2011 after police found prescriptions written by Zhao on several drug dealers peddling the pills in Union Square, a statement by Brennan’s office said.

Zhao subsequently allegedly sold prescriptions for alprazolam to undercover New York Police Department officers who visited his office more than two dozen times.

According to authorities, Zhao failed to conduct medical examinations beyond checking the officers’ blood pressure, and sold the pills in exchange for payments disguised as medical fees.

He allegedly charged a $100 cash fee for the first visit by each of the undercovers and $70 for subsequent visits, which was raised to $80 by 2014.

During a search last month of Zhao’s Woodbury, Long Island, home, police seized jewelry and financial documents. In a court-authorized search of Zhao’s Lafayette St. office, police seized medical and bank records, blank prescription pads, stamps with the doctor’s name and pill bottles.

According to Brennan, an analysis of Zhao’s prescribing history showed that 48 percent of the prescriptions he wrote from 2009 to 2015 were for alprazolam — a high rate, given that Zhao is an internist not a psychiatrist.

Based on his fees, Zhao stood to collect about $800,000 for these prescriptions, Brennan said.

The sting also allegedly revealed that Zhao ignored signs that patients were addicted to the drug, which carries a street value of $5 per pill.

Authorities said he continued prescribing alprazolam after the undercovers told him they were also obtaining it on the street.

Fatal drug overdoses in the city increased 41 percent between 2010 and 2013, according to the most recent data available from the city’s Department of Health. In 2013, benzodiazepines, including Xanax — which are depressants that can slow the heart and breathing — were found in 60 percent of fatal OD’s involving opioid painkillers, 36 percent of deaths involving heroin, and 58 percent involving methadone.

Zhao reportedly pleaded not guilty to 33 counts of criminal sale of a prescription and criminal sale of a controlled substance, and his bail was set at $500,000.