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CINCINNATI – They were medical professionals but they traded prescription pain pills for sex, prosecutors say. Others let untrained office workers examine patients, leaving a blank prescription pad at the clinic, their indictments reveal.
One dentist extracted the healthy teeth of patients as an excuse to give them painkillers, the feds say. Two of the prescribers charged in this week’s federal opioid sweep caused the deaths of five patients because of overprescribing, court papers show.
All of the 60 doctors, nurse practitioners, office staff, pharmacists and dentists charged in an Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioids Strike Force investigation face felonies for prescribing opioids when they shouldn’t.
The accusations in some of the indictments go beyond making money off people with addiction disease or acting to obtain drugs to feed their own addictions.
For example, Dr. Thomas Ballard III is accused of giving pain pills to people in exchange for sex and prescribing opioids to at least one pregnant woman, who died.
Court documents say Ballard, of Ballard Clinic-Family Practice in Jackson, Tennessee, didn’t monitor his patients for addiction as required. He also prescribed the deadly combination of opioids and benzodiazepines, a sedative, despite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FDA warnings. He was charged with maintaining a drug-involved premises and aiding and abetting, as well as unlawfully distributing and dispensing controlled substances.
Combining opioids and benzodiazepines, which are sedatives often prescribed for anxiety disorder or depression, is deadly. In 2016, the CDC issued new guidelines recommending that clinicians avoid prescribing the two kinds of medications together.
Ballard’s case wasn’t the only drugs-for-sex case in Jackson.
The Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force announced that they have charged 60 individuals, including 53 medical professionals, with crimes related to illegal distribution of opioids and other dangerous narcotics. Albert Cesare, email@example.com
\There was also Jeffrey Young, the self-nicknamed “Rock Doc,” who actually is a nurse practitioner, accused of trading opioids for sex.
A federal grand jury indictment says that Young prescribed about a half-million hydrocodone pills, 300,000 oxycodone pills, 1,500 fentanyl patches and 600,000 benzodiazepine pills over three years. His supervisors, Dr. Alexander Alperovich and Dr. Andrew Rudin, were also indicted.
Young even had a radio show about his clinic at one point.
In Kentucky, there was an absent doctor. Dr. Mohammed A.H. Mazumder of Prestonsburg, owned Appalachian Primary Care in Prestonsburg. A federal indictment says he told his employees, who weren’t doctors, to receive patients at the clinic when he wasn’t there. The indictment says that a medical technician evaluated patients, then two receptionists called pharmacies with prescription orders for pain pills and other drugs under Mazumder’s name. The clinic billed Medicare and Medicaid, as if Mazumber had done the job.
Dr. Denver Tackett ran a dental clinic in McDowell, Kentucky. An indictment accuses him of prescribing oxycodone and hydrocodone that were not reasonable for the treatment of patient’s illness or injury. He also is accused of pulling teeth out of six patients from 2016 to 2018 who had no need for extractions, as well as submitting claims to Medicare and Medicide for procedures he did not perform.
Tanya Mentzer, an office manager at a family medicine clinic in the city of Hoover, Alabama, also faces federal charges. She had no medical education, license or medical experience, say the feds, but she is accused of distributing and dispensing controlled substances illegally to gain money.
The indictment claims that she and co-conspirators operated their business as “a pill mill, frequently providing dangerous, addictive, powerful opioid cocktails” for no medical reason. (In this indictment, the co-conspirators are unnamed.) The clinic was often open at odd hours, including after midnight, the feds say.
Also in Alabama, Dr. Celia Lloyd-Turnerof Choice Medicine Clinic near Huntsville, is accused of prescribing excessive amounts of drugs, giving patients as many as 15 pills a day and leaving blank forms to be filled out by staff when she wasn’t at the clinic. She was the sole physician at the clinic, the indictment says.
Dr. Darrell Rinert, an internist with a license to practice in Tennessee, is accused in a federal grand jury indictment of causing the deaths of four people, after prescribing them hydrocodone repeatedly from 2014-2016. An indictment claims that Rinert routinely prescribed “highly addictive opioids” including morphine sulfate, hydrocodone, oxycodone and dextroamphetamine for patients without a legitimate medical reason.
The state medical board suspended him in November 2018 through May 2019, when his license will expire.
On Friday, U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr released a statement calling the investigation “outstanding.” He added, “The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history, and Appalachia has suffered the consequences more than perhaps any other region.”
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said stopping the illegal sales of opioid prescriptions is a crucial goal for President Donald Trump.
Azar also referred to the operation’s first-of-its-kind effort to get treatment to the patients left behind.
“It is also vital that Americans struggling with addiction have access to treatment and that patients who need pain treatment do not see their care disrupted, which is why federal and local public health authorities have coordinated to ensure these needs are met in the wake of this enforcement operation,” he said. (Click to Source)
More: See the full list of those indicted.
Costa Mesa is taking distributors and manufacturers of opioid pain medication to court in a bid to recoup tax dollars it alleges were spent as a result of the addiction epidemic that has afflicted communities coast to coast.
In a lawsuit filed March 29, the city argues that the businesses “intentionally flooded the market with opioids and pocketed billions of dollars in the process” while making “false statements designed to persuade both doctors and patients that prescription opioids posed a low risk of addiction.”
Such actions, the city alleges, “have not only caused significant costs but have also created a palpable climate of fear, distress, dysfunction and chaos among Costa Mesa residents where opioid diversion, abuse and addiction are prevalent and where diverted opioids tend to be used frequently.”
Opioids include powerful legal prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone, morphine and oxycodone.
The lawsuit names about a dozen distributors and manufacturers as defendants, including Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and certain members of the Sackler family that controls the company.
“This epidemic has personally touched the lives of many members of our community,” Mayor Katrina Foley said in a statement Thursday. “It’s time that we take action and put a halt to the lives being destroyed and the economic drain opioid addiction is placing on our community.”
Purdue Pharma spokesman Bob Josephson wrote in an emailed statement Thursday afternoon that the company “and the individual former directors of the company vigorously deny the allegations in the complaint and will continue to defend themselves against these misleading allegations.”
“The complaint is part of a continuing effort to try these cases in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system,” Josephson wrote. He added that he believes the complaint disregards or fails to note facts about Purdue’s prescription medications and pertinent federal regulations.
“Such serious allegations demand clear evidence linking the conduct alleged to the harm described, but we believe the city fails to show such causation and offers little evidence to support its sweeping legal claims,” he said.
In the suit, Costa Mesa alleges it has seen increased costs in myriad areas as a result of the opioid epidemic, including “medical and therapeutic care,” “counseling, treatment and rehabilitation services,” public safety and code enforcement.
A particularly pressing issue from the city’s perspective is the proliferation of local sober-living homes, which house recovering addicts, including those battling opioid dependence. Costa Mesa “has the largest concentration of sober-living homes in Orange County, creating a plethora of nuisance issues for residents, multiple calls for service by police and fire and millions of dollars in legal fees,” according to a city news release.
Also mentioned in the lawsuit is Costa Mesa fire Capt. Mike Kreza, who died in November after he was hit by a vehicle while riding his bicycle. The driver, Stephen Taylor Scarpa, 25, of Mission Viejo, was suspected of driving under the influence of drugs and has pleaded not guilty to one count of murder. Authorities allege he was in possession of pills prescribed by aTustin doctor who faces federal charges of illegally distributing opioids and other narcotics by writing prescriptions to people without medical examinations.
“Costa Mesa has been directly injured by the loss of Capt. Kreza, including costs for training and hiring a replacement, as well as pension and death benefits,” the lawsuit states. “These increased costs could have been — and should have been — prevented by the opioid industry.”
Lawsuits such as Costa Mesa’s have become increasingly common. Last month, Purdue and the Sackler family agreed to pay $270 million to the state of Oklahoma to settle claims that aggressive marketing of OxyContin helped create the addiction crisis, according to the
Associated Press. Nationwide, the company faces nearly 2,000 lawsuits, AP reported.
The distributors ‘knew what was going on.’ They just ‘didn’t care.’
The United States is embroiled in a fierce battle against opioid abuse. In 2014, there was a 3.4-fold increase in the number of opioid overdose deaths in America. The state hit hardest by the opioid crisis is West Virginia, where drug companies pumped 782 million pain pills into the state over the last 6 years.
In 2015, West Virginia had the highest rate of opioid overdose deaths in the country. Since 1999, overdose deaths have quadrupled in the state.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail obtained previously confidential drug shipping sales records sent by the DEA to West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office. The paper used the records to disclose the number of pain pills sold to every pharmacy in the state, as well as the drug companies’ shipments to all 55 counties in West Virginia between 2007 and 2012.
Their findings, both astounding and infuriating, were documented in a report published in the paper on December 17.
One drug company shipped nearly 9 million hydrocodone pills to a single pharmacy in Mingo County over the course of 2 years. The rural, impoverished county has the 4th-highest prescription opioid death rate of any county in the U.S. (Click to Article)
More than 40 addiction treatment, health care and consumer groups are urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reverse its decision to approve the prescription painkiller Zohydro ER (extended release), CNN reports.
The drug is a pure form of the painkiller hydrocodone. The FDA approved Zohydro ER in October for patients with pain that requires daily, around-the-clock, long-term treatment that cannot be treated with other drugs. Drugs such as Vicodin contain a combination of hydrocodone and other painkillers such as acetaminophen. Zohydro ER is set to become available in March, the article notes.
In December 2012, a panel of experts assembled by the FDA voted against recommending approval of Zohydro ER. The panel cited concerns over the potential for addiction.
Zohydro is designed to be released over time, and can be crushed and snorted by people seeking a strong, quick high. The opioid drug OxyContin has been reformulated to make it harder to crush or dissolve, but Zohydro does not include similar tamper-resistant features.
In a letter to FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the coalition of health groups, wrote, “In the midst of a severe drug epidemic fueled by overprescribing of opioids, the very last thing the country needs is a new, dangerous, high-dose opioid. Too many people have already become addicted to similar opioid medications, and too many lives have been lost.”
The health groups include the American Society of Addiction Medicine, Public Citizen Health Research Group, Phoenix House, the Hazelden Foundation, and Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing.
In December, 28 attorneys general wrote to Commissioner Hamburg, saying they believe the approval of Zohydro ER “has the potential to exacerbate our nation’s prescription drug abuse epidemic because this drug will be the first hydrocodone-only opioid narcotic that is reportedly five to ten times more potent than traditional hydrocodone products, and it has no abuse-deterrent properties.”
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