There was a time, not that long ago, when Albert R. Cowie was a well-known and well-regarded radiologist with a growing suburban practice.
Now, he’s a recovering drug addict facing a recommended sentence of 33 months in federal prison.
Cowie, a 38-year-old graduate of the University at Buffalo School of Medicine, was scheduled to appear in court Monday, but his sentencing was postponed just hours before his appearance. As part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors, Cowie admitted writing fraudulent prescriptions for painkillers and using them to feed his own drug problem.
“I was addicted to those medications,” Cowie told U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo last year. “I issued scripts for those medications and then used some of those medications.”
In his plea agreement, Cowie said he wrote illegal prescriptions for his now-former wife, but prosecutors claim he also wrote them for two others and, in each case, received some of the painkillers for his personal use.
He pleaded guilty to two felony charges, health care fraud and obtaining controlled substances by fraud.
“It started with Lortab,” Cowie said of the numerous painkillers he took over the years, “and then Percocet.”
Arrested in 2015 outside his offices at Diagnostic Imaging Associates in Amherst, Cowie was initially accused of writing 280 illegal prescriptions over a four-year period ending in early 2014. He also was charged with establishing a relationship with a prostitute, injecting her with heroin on one occasion and later giving her prescriptions for Xanax and Percocet.
Cowie did not admit to those crimes as part of his plea deal, but prosecutors said he agreed the allegations at the root of those charges could be considered by the court in weighing a prison sentence.
Cowie, who received his undergraduate degree from Canisius College, is the fifth Western New York doctor to be charged with distributing illegal drugs over the past several years. His guilty plea last year came just 3 days after Dr. Pravin V. Mehta of Niagara Falls was sentenced to 2 years in prison for illegally dispensing pain medication.
At the time of Cowie’s guilty plea last year, defense attorney Robert M. Goldstein said the future of his client’s medical license was still up in the air.
Cowie reportedly signed a consent decree with the state that will delay action on his license until after his sentencing. He is currently without the authority to prescribe medications.
Cowie’s guilty plea is the result of an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement and Amherst Police.
(We thank reporter Phil Fairbanks of The Buffalo News for this story)