By TOM LATEK, Kentucky Today
FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – Federal authorities have announced that 60 people in six states, including Kentucky, have been charged with illegally prescribing and distributing opioids and other drugs, along with health care fraud schemes.
Those charged include 31 doctors, seven pharmacists, eight nurse practitioners, and seven other licensed medical professionals, following an investigation by the U. S. Justice Department’s Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force, known as ARPO, in Kentucky, Alabama, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
The charges announced on Wednesday involve those accused of contributing to the opioid epidemic, focusing on medical professionals involved in the unlawful distribution of opioids and other prescription narcotics, which the Justice Department says is a priority for them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 130 Americans die every day of an opioid overdose.
“The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history, and Appalachia has suffered the consequences more than perhaps any other region,” said Attorney General William P. Barr. “One of the Department’s most promising new initiatives is the Criminal Division’s Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force, which began its work in December. Just four months later, this team of federal agents and 14 prosecutors has charged 60 defendants for alleged crimes related to millions of prescription opioids.”
Among the agencies participating in the takedown were the FBI, Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
FBI Executive Assistant Director Hess, a former Special Agent in Charge of Kentucky, said, “We will not stand by and allow the harmful and oftentimes deadly practice of over-prescribing highly addictive drugs to continue unchecked. The FBI will pursue medical personnel who misuse their positions of trust to blatantly disregard others’ very lives for their own financial gain.”
In the Western District of Kentucky, a doctor was charged with controlled substance and health care fraud counts in connection with providing pre-signed, blank prescriptions to office staff who then used them to prescribe controlled substances when he was out of the office, and for directing staff at the clinic, including individuals not licensed to practice medicine, to perform medical services on patients.
In another case, a doctor, a Florida compounding pharmacy and its owner were charged in connection with a scheme that involved the payment of alleged kickbacks in return for writing prescriptions for compounded drugs that included controlled substances, and for fraudulently inflating the costs for prescriptions that were billed for reimbursement by Medicare and TRICARE, which serves members of the military and their families.
In the Eastern District of Kentucky, five people were charged, including three doctors, a dentist and an office assistant who were charged with several health care fraud and/or controlled substance schemes.
In one case a doctor operating a clinic that focused on pain management allegedly provided pre-signed, blank prescriptions to office staff who then used them to prescribe controlled substances when he was out of the office.
A second case involved a solo practitioner who operates a five-clinic family practice focusing on pain management allegedly billed Medicare for urine testing that was not done and for urine testing that was not medically necessary.
A dentist was charged for alleged conduct that included writing prescriptions for opioids that had no legitimate medical purpose and that were outside the usual course of professional practice, removing teeth unnecessarily, scheduling unnecessary follow-up appointments, and billing inappropriately for services.
In yet another case, a doctor was charged for allegedly prescribing opioids to Facebook friends who would come to his home to pick up prescriptions, and for signing prescriptions for other persons based on messenger requests to his office manager, who then allegedly delivered the signed prescriptions in exchange for cash.
The Kentucky cases were brought with assistance from the FBI, DEA, HHS-OIG, and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, as well as the Kentucky State Police, Louisville Metro Police, the Kentucky Office of Inspector General, the Kentucky Department of Insurance, and the Kentucky Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.
The federal officials remind Kentuckians suffering with addiction can find help by calling 833-8KY-HELP or logging in at Findhelpnowky.org