Federal opioid pill bust reveals doctors trading pills for sex, dentists pulling good teeth

Terry DeMio, Cincinnati EnquirerPublished 5:35 p.m. ET April 19, 2019

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, acesare@enquirer.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 files lawsuit against distributors and manufacturers of opioid pain medication

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.

But Josephson said, “We believe that no pharmaceutical manufacturer has done more to address the opioid addiction crisis than Purdue, and we continue to work closely with governments and law enforcement agencies on this difficult social issue.” (Click to Source)

 

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Where you live may influence how much opioid you use

March 11, 2019

In a recent study, researchers found where people live may determine how many opioids they can get.

For example, people who sought care for a sprained ankle in states that are “high prescribers” of opioids were three times more likely to get a prescription for opioids than people in “low-prescribing” states.

The research was conducted by a team from Penn Medicine.

Previous studies have shown that opioid abuse and addiction has become a serious public health issue.

In the current study, the team examined private insurance claims data from more than 30,800 people who visited U.S. emergency departments for an ankle sprain from 2011-2015.

They found that overall, about 25% of patients received a prescription for an opioid painkiller, even though opioids are not the first-line treatment for the health condition.

In total, more than 143,000 opioid tablets were prescribed for patients.

Moreover, there was wide variation across states in opioid prescription. The high prescribing states offer opioids much more easily to patients than the low prescribing states.

For instance, only 3% of patients received an opioid prescription in North Dakota, compared to 40% in Arkansas.

In addition, the team found when patients received opioid prescriptions for long courses (e.g. more than 30 tablets of oxycodone 5 mg), they were five times more likely to fill additional opioid prescriptions over the next 6 months than those who received just a few days’ supplies.

The findings suggest wide geographic variability in prescribing patterns for minor injuries.

The team suggests it is important to reduce the size of new, initial opioid prescriptions, which can increase the risk of prolonged opioid use.

If opioids are absolutely necessary, doctors should prescribe the lowest initial dose possible, which should be no more than 10-12 tablets.

In addition, there should be more specific opioid and non-opioid prescription guidelines.

It is also important to find better non-opioid alternatives for pain management of minor injuries.

The lead author of the study is M. Kit Delgado, MD, MS, an assistant professor of Emergency Medicine and Epidemiology at Penn.

The study is published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine. (Click to Source)

Copyright © 2019 Knowridge Science Report. All rights reserved.

 

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Drug Companies Flooded W.V. With More Than 780 Million Pain Pills

The distributors ‘knew what was going on.’ They just ‘didn’t care.’

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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)

Heroin Overdose Antidote Naloxone Becoming More Widely Available

The heroin overdose antidote naloxone is becoming more widely available nationwide, the Los Angeles Times reports. California greatly expanded availability of the treatment as of January 1. Currently 17 states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws allowing family and friends of people who are addicted to heroin or prescription opioids to have the antidote.

The treatment, sold under the brand name Narcan, has been used for many years by paramedics and doctors in emergency rooms. It is administered by nasal spray. The medication blocks the ability of heroin or opioid painkillers to attach to brain cells. The U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy says it is encouraging police departments to carry Narcan.

Ohio is considering a measure to allow distribution of Narcan, the article notes. Ohio is one of many states that have experienced asurge in heroin use. Much of the increase is driven by people who have switched to heroin from prescription painkillers, because it is much cheaper and easier to obtain than pills such as oxycodone. The state measure would increase naloxone’s availability to anyone “in a position to assist an individual who there is reason to believe is at risk of experiencing an opioid-related overdose.”

According to Wilson Compton, Deputy Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, when naloxone is injected into an overdose victim whose heart is still beating, “it’s virtually 100 percent effective.” When overdose victims are discovered, “they’re kind of blue, they’re breathing very shallowly, or hardly breathing at all,” he said. “If this medication is administered [properly], they wake up within a minute or two. It’s remarkable. You save their life.”

Last summer, the police department of Quincy, Massachusetts, the first in the nation to require every officer on patrol to carry Narcan, reported a 95 percent success rate with the treatment.

Click to http://www.drugfree.org/join-together/community-related/heroin-overdose-antidote-naloxone-becoming-more-widely-available?utm_source=Join%20Together%20Daily&utm_campaign=a70e9c86f0-JT_Daily_News_Heroin_Overdose_Antidote&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_97f4d27738-a70e9c86f0-221343641

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