, Salem, MA

March 6, 2013

Police say lump turned out to be pills


---- — SALEM — A North Reading man who may have believed he had found the perfect way to carry a plastic bag of more than 250 prescription pills is now facing multiple counts of drug possession with intent to distribute.

Joel Laskin, 39, of 4 Judith Drive was spotted by Salem police officers Monday afternoon on Nichols Street, where the department’s Special Response Unit was conducting surveillance following complaints from residents about drug dealing.

The man later identified as Laskin was seen running briefly into a home and then getting back into the passenger seat of a car, which the officers followed as he headed down Boston Street.

The car made a stop at Spiro’s Energy, a gas station, then pulled out without signaling, leading the officers to try to pull it over, police Lt. Conrad Prosniewski said. The car eventually stopped on Howley Street in Peabody, just over the Salem line.

Laskin first told police his name was “Brian.” But veteran Patrolman Richard Cunningham recognized him from prior incidents and arrested him on a charge of providing a false name.

On the way to the police station, Cunningham noticed that Laskin was squirming on the seat of the police car.

During booking, they noticed a lump under the back of his pants, Prosniewski told the judge.

That turned out to be the knot on a plastic bag filled with pills, which was tucked into a body cavity.

“How big was this bag?” asked Salem District Court Judge Michael Lauranzano.

“About the size of a baseball,” Prosniewski responded.

The bag contained 33 whole and 10 broken Suboxone pills and 22 whole and three broken buprenorphine pills, which are synthetic opiates used to treat addiction; 52 whole and 30 broken alprazolam (generic Xanax or anti-anxiety) pills; 66 whole and three broken amphetamine pills; and 40 whole carisoprodol (generic Soma, a muscle relaxant) pills.

Defense lawyer Chris Beares produced copies of prescriptions for three of the drugs, which he said his client, who collects Social Security Disability Income, takes for anxiety.

“Despite where he might have been holding them, he has lawful possession of the drugs,” Beares argued.

“He may still possess them legally, but he can’t distribute them,” Lauranzano responded. “Certainly, where the drugs were found leads me to believe there was probable cause” for the intent to distribute charges.

Prosniewski noted that the prescriptions were for far-smaller quantities than police found in the bag.

Lauranzano granted Prosniewski’s request for $5,000 bail. Laskin is due back in court on April 5.

In addition to Cunningham, Patrolmen Tom Pelletier and Deni Gaito took part in the arrest.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.