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Former Franklin Square doctor charged with murder in opioid case

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Geraldine Sabatasso was a smoker with a history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease who began seeing Franklin Square-based Dr. George Blatti in 2007 for acute pain she suffered as a result of a neck surgery. He started prescribing her opioids in 2010, and by February 2016, Nassau County prosecutors said, she started complaining of dizziness and shortness of breath, but still, they allege, Blatti continued to prescribe Sabatasso, of Baldwin, opioids.

She died on March 22, 2016, at age 50. Among the other four patients to die under Blatti’s watch were residents of Valley Stream, Hempstead and Floral Park, according to prosecutors.

Blatti prescribed the drugs from a number of locations, authorities said, including an old Radio Shack in Franklin Square and the parking lots of a hotel in Rockville Centre, where he lived at the time, and a nearby fast-food restaurant.

Now Blatti, 75, originally from Malverne, faces murder and reckless endangerment charges for overprescribing opioids to Sabatasso and the four other victims, who died between 2016 and 2018, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas announced on March 4.

Blatti was charged with five counts of second-degree murder and 11 counts of reckless endangerment, in addition to the 22 counts of criminal sale of prescriptions for a controlled substance, six counts of second-degree forgery, two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment, two counts of second-degree reckless endangerment and 22 counts of fourth-degree criminal diversion of prescription medications that he was previously charged with in November 2019.

He pleaded not guilty to the new charges at the Nassau County Courthouse in Mineola last Thursday. Officials with the district attorney’s office said they believe this was the first time that a doctor was charged in New York with murder in the second-degree under the theory of depraved indifference to human life.

Singas said the Nassau County Police Department’s Asset Forfeiture and Intelligence Unit began investigating opioid overdoses in August 2018, and found that several people had obtained prescriptions from Blatti, a general practitioner who had no specialized training in pain management.

He met with people at the former Radio Shack in Franklin Square, which officials said still had a sign for the store and merchandise racks on the walls, until 2019, when he lost access to that space, and began prescribing medications without a physical examination from the parking lots in Rockville Centre.

There, officials said, patients would ask for drugs in specific quantities, which Blatti would fill without examining them or referring them to a specialist for their conditions. He used paper prescriptions pursuant to a waiver he was granted by the state health commissioner to avoid using the state’s secure electronic prescription system, which is generally required under New York state law to provide greater oversight of the flow of drugs.

“If his drug-addicted patient asked for more drugs, he simply wrote them more scripts,” Singas said at a news conference, alleging that this practice led to the premature deaths of Sabatasso, Michael Kinzer, Robert Mielinis, Sean Quigley and Diane Woodring.

“They’re our neighbors, they’re our family, they’re our loved ones,” Singas said of the five victims. “They were, for the most part, in their 30s and 40s, struggling with their own personal demons and looking for help.”

Blatti, she said, ignored documented overdoses and illicit drug use found in his patients’ medical records; disregarded a stack of letters he received from pharmacies, insurance companies and Medicaid — which he had billed for the drugs — about his excessive prescribing habits; and refused at least three patients’ pleas to stop prescribing him the medications. He also continued to prescribe the drugs, Singas alleged, after he was interviewed by the New York State Office of Professional Medical Conduct.

“Basically he’s a serial killer, in our opinion,” Singas said. “His prescription pad was as deadly as any lethal weapon.”

He had prescribed his patients a “staggering amount of opioids,” she explained, which “no amount of willpower could overcome.”

The district attorney’s office is now looking into the possibility that Blatti’s overprescribing practice led to other patients’ deaths.

His attorney, Mineola-based Jeffrey Groder, declined to comment, but argued in court last Thursday that Blatti should not be immediately incarcerated because he has metastatic prostate cancer and had not yet received a Covid-19 vaccine.

Blatti had voluntarily surrendered his medical license to state authorities in June 2019. If convicted, he could face 25 years to life in prison.