Public Outreach Update

Dishonest docs and pharmacies are feeding desperate addicts with painkillers while hauling down insurance money from illicit prescriptions in New York. Painkiller addiction and insurance fraud are the welcome targets of a $1-million campaign that insurers in New York have launched to alert consumers.

It’s a statewide outreach campaign by the New York Alliance Against Insurance Fraud. Addiction and overdoses from prescription painkillers have reached dangerous levels in New York. Illicit profits from insurance scams are placing unneeded pain pills into vulnerable New Yorkers’ hands, helping fuel a statewide drug problem.

“Painkiller fraud is a prescription for tragedy,” goes the campaign theme. NYAAIF targeted major cities with TV and radio spots, billboards and social media.

Adding credibility, NYAAIF enlisted real-life doctor Nita Landry — cohost of the popular reality show “The Doctors” — as campaign spokesperson.

TV and radio spots aired in New York City, Buffalo, Rochester and Albany through June. “Who thought these small pills could almost destroy my life,” an actor portraying a drug victim asks in a television spot. “I went from killing pain to almost killing myself. What I didn’t know was insurance fraud made getting these drugs easier.”

Watch for pharmacies that fill your prescriptions for fewer than the number of days or pills listed on the prescription, advises a special online report on painkiller fraud.

Also … avoid insurance scams that traffic in pain pills — you could be arrested and jailed, NYAAIF warns. Use pain pills only how your doctor advises — and lock the pills in a cabinet at home, an NYAAIF consumer podcast also urges New Yorkers. Medical providers and pharmacists are getting rich from illegally providing unneeded painkillers to vulnerable consumers.

More consumer advice and scam alerts spread virally on NYAAIF’s Facebookpage and Twitter feeds.

The campaign struck a nerve among New Yorkers, many of who have friends or relatives who are dealing with painkillers. Consumers flocked to NYAAIF’s site, sending visitor metrics through the roof.

“It’s a very personal issue. This is a very human, human problem with somebody getting overprescribed,” NYAAIF chair Jim Potts says in the podcast. “That’s just a terrible, terrible way to become an addict.”

TV’s power to change minds and sway action against schemes took shape when news coverage saved an elderly homeowner from a suspected contractor scam, and warned people against signing up with bad actors.

Tampa tussle over contractor billing. Ron Wineholt says a contractor tried to bilk him — until a local TV station covered his dilemma and compelled the contractor to back off.

A $13,565 construction lien mysteriously appeared on the home of the Tampa, Fla. senior. He was among 13 homeowners allegedly served with liens by contractor Neal Scoppettuolo. Wineholt says he neither ordered nor received the roofing shingles the lien claimed he owed money for. He didn’t think his roof had any problem, and didn’t agree to a new roof after a Scoppettuolo salesman insisted Hurricane Irma damaged his home’s lid. Wineholt’s insurance adjuster also said the roof was fine.

Yet the lien for shingles for a roof replacement suddenly showed up in January. Then Channel 8 On Your Side started covering Wineholt’s dilemma. He needed the help; he’s age 85 with a full-time caregiver. The lien disappeared after the station started its news coverage. Scoppettuolo still is operating in Hillsborough, Collier and other Florida counties.

Workshop works in Montana. A workshop inspired a cautionary TV story about a contractor fraud victim, and also taught consumers about the flags of contractor schemes exploiting storms in the state.

The event was hosted in Montana by the State Auditor and Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. A local TV station covered the event, telling residents about red flags of a cheating contractor: pounds on your door right after a storm … uses high-pressure sales tactics … discourages you from contacting your insurer or agent … pushes you to sign a contract before your adjuster has inspected and verified damage.

Then came the story’s icing. Billings-based homeowner Michelle Qualls needed a new roof and windows. “We were contacted by seven different contractors within three days wanting our business. And we wanted to make sure we went with a reputable contractor,” she told KULR 8.

“And so we checked references. We did our homework. We made sure they had a Montana contractors license. And the company we did sign a contract with, they put their sign in our yard. And they put their sign in about two-dozen other yards in our neighborhood. And we had them do the work, and right off the bat we could tell it wasn’t a good job.”