An Orangevale man was sentenced today in federal court in Sacramento to 21 months in prison for conspiring to distribute hydrocodone.
According to court documents, Brandon Savaloja, 27, conspired with Raymond Reyes, 20, of Lincoln and others to distribute the drug in Placer, Sonoma, San Joaquin and Yuba counties. Hydrocodone is an opiate pain reliever found in such common medications as Vicodin, Norco and Lortab.
Savaloja was sentenced by U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez. Reyes was sentenced March 28 by Judge Mendez to four years and nine months in prison for conspiring to distribute hydrocodone and aggravated theft.
The Placer County District Attorney's Office has obtained at least 11 other convictions related to this scheme, according to a federal Department of Justice news release.
According to court documents, in 2006, Reyes worked for a Sacramento-area cardiologist as a licensed medical assistant. Reyes used the doctor's Drug Enforcement Administration registration number to call in fraudulent prescriptions for hydrocodone using the names of patients. Savaloja and other conspirators picked up the hydrocodone from the pharmacy, and Reyes sold the pills.
Savaloja was arrested July 29, 2009, after a prescription pickup outside a pharmacy. In a recorded interview with law enforcement officers on the same date, Savaloja admitted working for Reyes for at least the previous six months and helping him pick up numerous prescriptions. He told authorities that Reyes paid him $100 a bottle to arrange prescription pickups.
Savaloja also made several pickups in his own name for Reyes. At his sentencing today, Savaloja said that his drug addictions led him to break the law, according to the news release.
The state of California requires pharmacies to report all prescriptions of Schedule II and III controlled substances to an electronic reporting database. The database shows approximately 508 prescriptions for hydrocodone -- totaling about 97,000 pills -- were distributed by approximately 89 pharmacies under the purported authority of the doctor for whom Reyes worked during the conspiracy, officials said. Savaloja admitted responsibility for at least 5,000 of those pills.
The database logged the date of each prescription, the number of pills and the purported patient to whom the pills were distributed. The names of approximately 74 purported patients were used, often without knowledge or consent of the people to whom the names corresponded, officials said.
The case resulted from an investigation by the Sacramento Resident Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the California Department of Justice, and the Auburn, Rocklin and Lincoln police departments.
Hydrocodone is one of the most commonly abused prescription drugs. Authorities cited statistics from the Sacramento County Coroner's Office showing that the cause of 15 deaths in the county in 2007 was listed as drug toxicity. That number dropped slightly in 2008 and 2009, then rose sharply in 2010 to 67 such deaths. In 2011, 95 such deaths were reported, with the increased number largely attributed to the abuse of prescription drugs such as hydrocodone.
Last month, the United States Attorney's Office convened a summit to address teen prescription drug abuse in the Sacramento region. U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced creation of an action committee on teen prescription drug abuse, with members drawn from federal, state and local governmental agencies, as well as schools, nonprofit organizations and other interest groups. During the coming year, the committee will seek to educate the public about how to prevent prescription drug abuse.