Sixty doctors, nurses and pharmacists in seven states were arrested by federal agents on April 17 in a massive sting operation targeting medical professionals who overprescribed opioids to patients.
In some cases, the highly addictive prescription drugs were handed out in ‘shockingly unethical circumstances.’ (Rollingstone.com). Federal and state officials have called it the biggest prescription opioid law enforcement operation in American history.
According to the federal indictments unsealed last week in Cincinnati, 31 doctors, seven pharmacists, and eight nurses were charged with writing more than 340,000 opioid prescriptions in an extremely lax manner. Some medical professionals stand accused of handing patients blank prescription forms. Some even offered opioid prescriptions on social media sites, such as Facebook. The federal charges include unlawful distribution of controlled substances and conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud.
Sex for Drugs Aspect ‘Shocking,’ Federal Officials Say
Federal officials who commented on the story this week noted what is probably the most shocking element of the indictments is the number of medical professionals who were allegedly trading drugs for sex. One physician called his practice a ‘fun house’ and allegedly recruited prostitutes and other women with whom he had sexual intercourse. He gave them highly addictive drug prescriptions in exchange for sex. A nurse practitioner allegedly handed out hundreds of thousands of opioid pills in exchange for sex.
Appalachian Region Targeted for Opioid Crackdown
The federal indictments were part of a four month investigation by the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Task Force. The purpose of the group is to crack down on the abnormally high number of opioid prescriptions in that part of the country. Most of the accused who were arrested worked in Appalachian states, including Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
US Attorney General William Barr commented last week that the Task Force spearheaded the investigations that led to the dozens of arrests of medical professionals.
The Appalachian area of the US has been the hardest hit by the opioid crisis. West Virginia has the highest opioid overdose rate in the US. There are 35.5 overdoses per 100,000 people; the national average is 14.7 overdoses per 100,000 people.
In the US, the opioid epidemic has taken several hundred thousand lives. More than 47,000 Americans died from opioid overdose in 2017, per data from the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Pharmaceutical companies, such as Purdue Pharmaceuticals – which makes Oxycontin – are being slammed with dozens of lawsuits. The companies are accused of encouraging doctors to prescribe opioids while knowing the risk of addiction and even death from the drugs.
More Details About Opioid Prescription Allegations
Some of the more egregious allegations against some medical professionals caught in the opioid prescription crackdown include:
- A doctor in Ohio who allegedly was the highest prescriber of opioids in the state. Several pharmacists also were charged with operating a ‘pill mill’ in Dayton. The federal indictment stated in a two year period, the pharmacy dispensed nearly two million pills.
- A doctor in Kentucky who provided pre-signed and blank prescription forms to administrative assistants. They allegedly used them to prescribe several controlled substances when he was not at work. He also allegedly directed non-medical professionals on his staff to perform medical services on some patients.
- A doctor who ran a five clinic family practice focused on pain management billed Medicare for urine tests that were not performed and for urine tests that were not needed for medical reasons.
- A dentist who alleged prescribed opioids to friends on Facebook who would drive to his house and pick up the drugs. He also allegedly signed prescriptions for other people from messenger requests sent to his office manager. She then allegedly gave out the signed prescriptions for cash.
- Two doctors in Tennessee who were sanctioned by the Tennessee Medical Board related to overprescribing opioids. One was sanctioned for giving opioid prescriptions to vulnerable patients. Another was sanctioned for allegedly giving out opioid pills after he was on probation.
- An NP who called himself the Rock Doc. He allegedly overprescribed dangerous and powerful combinations of benzodiazepines and opioids. He sometimes did this for sexual favors.
- A doctor who prescribed 500,000 hydrocodone pills, 300,000 oxycodone pills, 1500 highly dangerous fentanyl patches, and 600,000 benzodiazepine pills over 36 months.
- A nurse practitioner who was charged with conspiracy to illegally distribute controlled substances.
- A doctor who was charged with illegally prescribing controlled substances, and engaging in several health care fraud violations. He also illegally prescribed medically unnecessary medical equipment that was billed to Medicare.