Dirty Doctor Charged With Writing Illegal Painkiller Prescriptions

By Zachary Siegel 04/22/15

Dr. Albert Cowie is charged with supplying a heroin-addicted sex worker with illegal prescription drugs.

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Dr. Albert Cowie of Buffalo, NY, is facing federal charges due to writing hundreds of illegal prescriptions for narcotic painkillers. He is suspected of having patients fill the prescriptions and instructing them to leave some aside for himself to indulge.

“Society puts their trust in medical professionals and Dr. Cowie violated that trust,” said Steven L. Halter, special agent for the FBI in Buffalo.
Cowie’s case is not an isolated incident in the small village of Williamsville. He is the fourth local doctor to be charged with doling out illegal prescriptions in four years.

In 2012, a nearby emergency room doctor pleaded guilty to health-care fraud and illegally obtaining controlled substances. His case made headlines again because two of his alleged patients were recently found dead from overdoses.

With respect to Cowie, Michelle Spahn, who is acting DEA agent in charge of Buffalo, said, “[He] was essentially a drug dealer masquerading as a doctor.”

Investigations into Cowie’s clientele brought to light that one of his patients was a sex-worker he met at a local strip club. Soon after the two established a relationship, he was giving her an allowance of $200 a day to feed her heroin addiction while also prescribing her Xanax and oxycodone. Authorities, however, believe that Cowie may have been trying to help the woman by curbing her drug addiction.

On Wednesday, Cowie’s lawyers filed a not guilty plea on his behalf. He is charged with numerous felonies including unlawful distribution of a controlled substance, possession of a substance by fraud, and conspiracy to commit other drug felonies. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison. His attorneys declined to comment.

According to the CDC, the U.S. is in the midst of a painkiller epidemic and overprescribing doctors are partly to blame. Since 1999, the amount of painkillers prescribed and sold has nearly quadrupled. Law enforcement agencies around the country are dedicated to cracking down on dirty doctors.

The charges against Cowie are the result of a collaborative investigation involving the DEA, FBI, the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, and the Amherst police. 

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.