Don't let DEA Scare
"Our office will try our best to root out (certain doctors) like the Taliban" boasted US Attorney Gene Rossi.
The DEA's war on prescription drug diversion continues to escalate. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft issued orders to prosecutors to pursue maximum charges and sentences whenever possible and to limit plea bargains. Middle-aged physicians are receiving long sentences, usually reserved for the most hardened criminals, that mean they will probably die in prison.
Doctors who prescribe pain-controlling medication face grave
danger if the DEA decides they don't like the prescriptions. Their attitude is "guilty until proven innocent" whenever a doctor prescribes pain medication adequate to deal with serious and long-lasting pain.
Dr. William Hurwitz of McLean, VA, was arrested by 20 armed guards in the presence of his young adopted daughters. The federal government had already seized his assets, including his retirement account, under drug-related forfeiture laws, without any finding of guilt. When Dr. Hurwitz filed for return of his money, the government responded with a 49-count indictment for drug trafficking resulting in death or serious injury, engaging in a criminal enterprise, conspiracy, and health care fraud. He was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
At a press conference after Hurwitz's
sentencing, DEA Administrator Karen Tandy said, "Dr. Hurwitz was no different from a cocaine or heroin
dealer peddling poison on the street corner."
All doctors who worked, even briefly, at a chronic pain clinic in Myrtle Beach, SC, have been charged. Dr. Deborah Bordeaux awaits sentencing that could be for 100 years.
Bernard Rottschaefer, M.D., was the victim of a disgruntled employee, some patients who were drug addicts, and an overzealous prosecution. Since his conviction on March 9th, six female addicts have sued him claiming that he is the one responsible for their addiction. The doctor was sentenced to 6½ years in jail despite a lack of any direct evidence against him.
Dr. Jesse Benjamin Henry, Jr., was perhaps the first doctor indicted for first-degree murder for prescribing painkillers. He was charged with seven counts of first-degree depraved mind murder, for seven patients who died of drug overdoses after taking multiple combinations of drugs, sometimes including cocaine. To avoid a lengthy trial and the possible equivalent of a life sentence, Dr. Henry pled guilty to seven counts of involuntary manslaughter along with single counts of trafficking, money laundering and racketeering.
Jeri Hassman, M.D., a pain management physician entrapped by an undercover agent posing as a patient, was sentenced in federal court in Tucson, AZ, on August 16. After an exhaustive investigation, the government filed hundreds of counts against Dr. Hassman concerning a small number of patients, with each prescription constituting a separate count. Dr. Hassman felt compelled to plead guilty to four counts of being an accessory after the fact of several patients' allegedly unlawful possession of controlled substances.
The Judge decided to impose two years of probation, plus 100 hours of community service, 50 in a substance abuse center and 50 serving nonpaying patients in her office. Dr. Hassman may reapply for her DEA certification one year after the date of the plea agreement. However, the Judge conditioned the sentence upon this disconcerting requirement: Dr. Hassman must publish in a medical journal an exemplary letter describing the devastating consequences of her own behavior and the righteous prosecution by government, so that others may be influenced.
Freddie J. Williams, M.D., was sentenced to life in prison on September 1, 2004 in Florida for prescribing oxycodone that allegedly lead to the death of two patients. U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers also required Williams to pay more than $2 million in restitution to insurers and even a wholesale pharmaceutical distributor. Williams insisted that he is innocent and noted that some patients lied and others forged prescriptions.
Dr. Deborah Bordeaux received a sentence of 8 years for being included in an alleged conspiracy to prescribe medications such as OxyContin. Her sentence was based on working for a mere 57 days in a pain clinic in Myrtle Beach, SC. Other physicians at the clinic were also charged: Dr. Ricardo Alerre, 74 years old, was sentenced to 19 years and seven months. Dr. Michael Jackson was sentenced to 24 years and four months. Drs. Deborah Sutherland and Thomas Devlin received two years each. Benjamin Moore, D.O., plead guilty and then committed suicide prior to sentencing
"I believe and I hope that this case has sent a clear message to the medical community that they need to be sure the controlled substances they prescribe are medically necessary," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Day. "If doctors have a doubt whether they could get in trouble, this case should answer that."
Despite an acquittal and hung jury, the federal government is going to retry Dr. Cecil Knox. Dr. Knox originally won an acquittal on many charges, and a hung jury on the remainder. He was not convicted on a single charge.
Tad Lonergan, M.D. of Desert Hot Springs, CA. Two female undercover agents who were "wired" visited his office complaining of symptoms consistent with migraine headaches. After listening to their history, he prescribed 30 Tylenol codeine tablets. Several weeks later he was arrested and thrown into jail. Lonergan lost his license, owed $300,000 in legal fees, was sentenced to six months in jail, $11,000 in fines and 200 hours of community service.
David Thurman, M.D., of Louisville, Kentucky. The parents of a 28-year-old patient who took his own life on July 30th are now blaming the doctor for the suicide. This is a familiar allegation, the type that often leads to a malpractice lawsuit. The doctor was treating the patient for a bad back, and it's unclear whether the prescriptions were even connected in any way to the death. Nevertheless, the state revoked his license and the patient's divorced parents are complaining about the doctor to the media. Pressure is on the DEA and prosecutors to investigate.
Donald Kreutzer, M.D., of Clarksville, Missouri was convicted of fourteen felony counts of Delivery of a Controlled Substance and one felony count of Public Aid Vendor Fraud.
Dr. Katarzyna Rygiel is fighting to get her license back after the California Board of Medicine revoked it for excessive prescribing, negligence and dishonesty.
Freeman Clark, M.D., serving a 6 year sentence. (5th SW Virginia doctor convicted of writing illegal prescriptions in 2 years) Also convicted: - Dr. Vasu Arora of Grundy, Virginia, Dr. Dinkar Pate, of Grundy, Virginia, and Dr. Denny Lambert of Dante, Virginia.
Franklin Sutherland, M.D., VA, charged with a total of seventy-nine counts of illegally dispensing schedule II, III and IV prescription drugs without legitimate medical purpose. Sentenced to 70 months. Dr. Sutherland said he was only trying to help people in pain. However, he admitted that he used bad judgment in some cases and got too close to his patients, some of whom needed drugs to cope with both physical pain and chemical dependence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Ramseyer said, "the number one drug pushers in our community are the doctors, and the doctors don't care about what they're putting on the street. All they care about is getting patients and making money."
Robert Weitzel, M.D., charged with first-degree murder and convicted of manslaughter and negligent homicide, sentenced to 15 years, then acquitted on retrial.
Pascual Herrera, M.D., license revoked in Alabama in wake of OxyContin hysteria, for "sloppy handwriting." A judge has ordered that his license be reinstated, but the Medical Licensure Commission of Alabama has so far failed to comply with the judge's order.
Frank Fisher, M.D., the medical director of a community health center caring for the rural poor in Northern California, was first charged with 5 counts of murder. After a 21 day preliminary hearing, a judge threw out all the murder charges. The Attorney General’s office continued to pursue lesser charges against the doctor, despite abundant evidence of his innocence, and despite a deepening scandal involving misconduct by state officials. On January 14, 2003, after almost 4 years of relentless prosecution, all charges were dismissed, on the first day of trial when the government finally admitted it didn't have the evidence.
Randall Lievertz, M.D., of Indiana, indicted on charges of health care fraud, carrying sentence of 20 years plus $1 million fine. Lievertz was investigated and charged because records showed he prescribed more OxyContin to Medicaid recipients in the State of Indiana than any other physician.
Dr. Denis Deonarine of Florida; the first doctor in the country charged with first-degree murder in an overdose death, could face death or life imprisonment.
Dr. Daniel Maynard of Dallas, TX, office, home, bank raided, Medicare payments frozen, charged with two counts of manslaughter and said to be "linked to 11 overdose deaths." Maynard's practice has been closed since 2003 and his license suspended.
Dr. Dudley Hall of Bridgeport, CT; charged with 22 counts of illegally prescribing a narcotic substance and 14 counts of illegally prescribing a controlled substance.
Dr. Richard Garcia Munoz; may lose his license for prescribing methadone to a 30-year-old who suffers from migraine and back pain. "He didn't do anything wrong. He'd suffered for a long time, since he was an adolescent; often he couldn't leave his room. The methadone was effective. It was the only thing that appeared to be."
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