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Pill arrests result of 9-month probe

MANATEE — Police reports on two dozen arrested during a recent prescription pill sweep illustrate nine months of prescription fraud and street-level drug dealing in Manatee’s booming illicit drug market.

On June 18, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies descended on dozens of Manatee residents accused of prescription pill-related crimes in a sweep dubbed “Operation Pharmville,” the result of nine months of investigations. Such investigations are quickly becoming a top priority at the sheriff’s office, where officials say crimes related to prescription pills have reached epidemic proportions.

“Crack cocaine is still prevalent, but prescription pills are quickly becoming our No. 1 problem,” said sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow. “I would say in the last year it has exploded.”

If seizures of prescription pills is an indication, the sheriff’s office has taken more than 18,000 prescription pills off the street so far this year, up from just more than 160 during the same time frame last year, sheriff’s Capt. Pat Bartholomew reported to Manatee County commissioners at a recent meeting.

A look at arrest reports from “Operation Pharmville” outline the lengths many are going to on the street to get and sell powerful and potentially deadly prescription pills such as oxycodone and morphine. In Manatee, 36 people overdosed on prescription pills in 2009, and law enforcement says pills have become the drug of choice for youths because have become the drug of choice for youths because they are much more accessible than street drugs such as cocaine and heroin.

Reports begin Sept. 9, 2009, when an undercover detective said he purchased three oxycodone pills from 22-year-old Timothy D. Muncie for $45. The buy took place in Muncie’s trailer in the Bell Grove Mobile Home Park, in the 600 block of 301 Boulevard. Three months later, another undercover detective said he bought seven hydrocodone pills from Donald Pope, 21, at his Bradenton home, in the 700 block of 60th Avenue Terrace West. Both were arrested on sale of controlled substances warrants during the sweep.

In October, detectives turned to investigating 28-year-old Jason Ryan Kline, after a pharmacist at Bradenton Hometown Pharmacy told investigators that a fake prescription had been passed for 300 oxycodone pills for $375.

After filling the prescription, pharmacists began to believe it could be fake and called the physician on the note, Bradenton Dr. Vishal Sharma. Sharma said he had never treated Kline and the pharmacy called the sheriff’s office. Detectives found that the signature on the script in no way resembled Sharma’s signature. Kline was arrested during the sweep on a charge of trafficking in oxycodone.

During the sweep, deputies also arrested 50-year-old Willie Clotelle Reed after months of investigation found she had passed forged prescriptions at two local pharmacies and sold oxycodone pills to an undercover deputy.

Pharmacists from Bradenton Family Pharmacy and Bradenton Hometown Pharmacy learned that prescriptions given by Reed were forged after contacting Bradenton Dr. John Pfeilsticker. Pfeilsticker later told deputies he believed that a prescription note pad had been taken from a garbage outside his office.

Then on March 16, an undercover detective said he bought five oxycodone pills from Reed for $40 at her home, in the 3100 block of 12th Street Court East. Reed was arrested on three counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and sale of a controlled substance.

On June 18, detectives also sought Adrian Quinn Culpepper on a charge of attempting to obtain an controlled substance by fraud warrant. The warrant states Culpepper, 21, tried to fill a prescription March 25 for 240 oxycodone pills at Bradenton Hometown Pharmacy, but he fled when a clerk refused to fill it without talking to the doctor, the warrant states.

During the sweep, deputies found Culpepper who had 21 oxycodone pills bringing a charge of possession of controlled substance in addition to the fraud warrant.