About a decade ago, the province of Ontario, Canada, set up a monitoring system to prevent bogus opioid prescriptions, a system designed to flag shady doctors or pharmacists. "But what happens when a bad doctor meets a bad pharmacist?" writes Brett Popplewell in Toronto Life. "The system wasn’t prepared for a scenario where the two collaborate to pump narcotics onto the street." And thus begins the story of Dr. George Otto, a Ugandan immigrant and a once-respected family physician in Toronto, where he lived a plush lifestyle with his wife and four children. As the story details, one way Otto funded that lifestyle was by writing bogus prescriptions for fentanyl in a scheme that netted him about $9,000 a week. He teamed with pharmacist Shereen El-Azrak in a lucrative plot that sounds like a Hollywood script.
The pair enlisted the help of low-level drug dealers Liridon Imerovik and Sean Holmes. Imerovik would supply real names that Otto would use to write scripts for fentanyl patches, explains Popplewell. El-Azrak would fill the prescriptions, and Imerovik would then pass the drugs on to Holmes in exchange for cash. The patches' labels would be pulled off to erase the path back to Otto and El-Azrak, and Holmes would ferry the drugs to a local barber who sold them for about $350 a patch. Things began to unravel in 2015, when Imerovik got pulled over with patches, cash, and prescriptions receipts. Otto and El-Azrak were eventually convicted of trafficking (both are appealing) and sentenced to 12 and 13 years, respectively. (Read the full story, which fits the scheme into the wider opioid epidemic.)