A Long Island doctor was charged Thursday with murder for prescribing “massive quantities” of painkillers to five patients already in the “throes of addiction” who died between 2016 and 2018, prosecutors said.
In a first of its kind case in New York, George Blatti, 75, was arraigned on five counts of depraved indifference murder in the second degree, and 11 counts of reckless endangerment in the first degree. If he is convicted of the top charge, he could face up to 25 years behind bars.
“This doctor’s prescription pad was as lethal as any murder weapon,” Nassau County DA Nassau Madeline Singas said in a statement.
“We allege that Dr. Blatti showed depraved indifference to human life, total disregard for the law, his ethical obligations, and the pleas of his patients and their family members when he prescribed massive quantities of dangerous drugs to victims in the throes of addiction, ultimately killing five patients who entrusted him with their care,” Singas said.
His case marks the first time a doctor has been charged in the state with depraved indifference murder for prescription abuses.
A “depraved indifference” murder charge is filed when a person “recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes the death of that person,” according to state penal code.
Several of the victim’s relatives sat in the courtroom as the doctor was arraigned in front of Judge Francis Ricigliano in Nassau County Court.
When asked by a court representative how he pleads, Blatti turned his head to first look at his lawyer as if seeking confirmation, and then said, “Not guilty.”
Assistant District Attorney Stefanie Palma said that Blatti provided prescriptions for opioids to patients days before their death, ignoring any underlying medical conditions and signs of drug abuse, and also ignoring pleas from their families to stop.
He even ignored recommendations from the Office of Professional Conduct to change the way he prescribes medicine, Palma charged.
He continued to write prescriptions “that served no legitimate medical purpose,” even after three of his patients died, Palma alleged. Then, the fourth and fifth patients died.
“The defendant’s actions leaves us with one conclusion,” she said. “This defendant simply did not care whether his patients lived or died.”
Defense attorney Jeffrey Groder said his client didn’t receive a COVID-19 vaccine, has metastatic prostate cancer, heart disease and wears a catheter.
“Incarceration of Dr Blatti is unnecessary,” the attorney argued, because his client showed up on time to his court appearances and does not pose a flight risk.
But the judge ordered him held without bail because of the seriousness of the charges and his prior rap sheet.
Blatti was previously arrested in 2019 for selling drug prescriptions out of the trunk of his car at a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot and a strip-mall RadioShack, where prosecutors say he kept a makeshift office.
“Following his arrest last year, he allegedly told the detective, ‘I’m smarter than you, I’m the doctor, I know what I’m doing. I don’t tell you how to be a detective, you don’t tell me how to be a doctor,’” Singas said at a press conference.
Before Thursday’s arraignment, a woman who declined to give her name said her brother died as a result of Blatti’s overprescribing.
“He’s a horrible person,” she said. “He’s horrific. I’m a nurse so it makes it that much harder for me to deal with this.”
When asked if the fact that the doctor is being charged with murder brings her any comfort, she said, “Of course, absolutely.”
Blatti is due back in court on March 30.
“I don’t care what you look like, I don’t care if you’re on a corner with a hoodie on, you dress with a suit on, you dress like a pharmacist or a doctor,” Nassau County Police commissioner Patrick Ryder said at the press conference. “We will spend the time and the effort to come after you and hunt you down. We owe it to our victims to give them a voice.”