BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A doctor from Amherst could spend the next 20 years in prison if convicted of felony drug charges. U.S. Attorney William Hochul announced Wednesday that officers arrested Dr. Albert R. Cowie, who is 36 years old. He is charged by criminal complaint with unlawful distribution of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance by fraud, and conspiracy to commit a drug felony. The maximum penalty Cowie could face would be 20 years in prison, a $1,000,000 fine, or both.
“At a time when many in this community continue to struggle with serious opiate addiction, today’s arrest reveals that such powerful narcotics can sometimes become available for abuse because of the illegal actions of those in the medical community”, said U.S. Attorney Hochul.
Dr. Cowie is a practicing radiologist at Diagnostic Imaging Associates in Amherst. According to the criminal complaint, he wrote 280 illegal prescriptions for medications like Oxycodone, Percocet, and Hydrocodone between January 25, 2010 and March 22, 2014. Investigators say Cowie gave the prescriptions to three people who were not patients, who took them to local pharmacies and had them filled. The complaint says those people kept some of the narcotics for themselves, and gave the rest to Cowie for his own use.
The complaint also focuses on a prostitute, who prosecutors say Cowie met at an area strip club. They say they started a relationship, and eventually Cowie gave her $200 a day to support a heroin addiction. Cowie is accused of injecting the prostitute with heroin at least once, and then giving her prescriptions for Xanax and Percocet.
“Dr. Cowie was essentially a drug dealer disguised as a doctor,” said Michelle Spahn, the Resident Agent in Charge with the DEA.
The Drug Enforcement Administration worked with the FBI, the New York State Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, and the Amherst Police department on the investigation into Dr. Cowie. The investigation, which began in 2013, was prompted by an Amherst police officer who became suspicious after responding to a report of a domestic disturbance at Cowie’s Amherst home, where the officer says he found and seized prescription pill bottles belonging to someone else, as well as used hypodermic syringes and a prescription pad.
Federal officials say Cowie was taken into custody at his practice around 7:45 a.m. Wednesday. U.S. Attorney Hochul says Cowie is the fifth doctor his office has been able to charge with violating federal narcotics trafficking laws. He says those arrests, as well as those of nurses, pharmacy technicians, and other medical professionals for similar drug offenses, should send a strong message about how seriously they take this kind of crime.
“Doctors, more than anyone, have an obligation to work within their legal powers to prescribe prescription pills, particularly opiate-based prescription pills. More than anyone in the community, they know that the improper handling of prescription pills is like giving a loaded gun to a felon,” Hochul said Wednesday.
Cowie was scheduled to make his first appearance in court at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Prosecutors say, at this point, they are not planning to charge any of the people for whom Cowie allegedly wrote the illegal prescriptions. According to the criminal complaint, those people are now cooperating as witnesses.