Eight Kentuckians among 60 indicted for illegal prescribing or health-care fraud as a result of major federal investigation

Rob Duncan, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, announced the cases. (Associated Press photo by John Minchillo)

Sixty health professionals in five Appalachian states, including Kentucky, were charged Wednesday with “illegal prescribing of more than 32 million pain pills, including doctors who prosecutors said traded sex for prescriptions and a dentist who unnecessarily pulled teeth from patients to justify giving them opioids,” report Sari Horwitz and Scott Higham of The Washington Post.

Those indicted included “31 doctors, seven pharmacists, eight nurse practitioners and seven other licensed medical professionals” who wrote more than 350,000 illegal prescriptions in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama, according to federal indictments filed in Cincinnati. “That is the equivalent of one opioid dose for every man, woman and child in the five states in the region that we’ve been targeting,” Brian Benczkowski, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, told the Post.

Those indicted in Kentucky, according to the USA Today Network, include:

•  Dr. Denver Tackett, who ran a dental clinic in McDowell, is accused of prescribing Oxycodone and hydrocodone that were not reasonable for the treatment of a patient’s illness or injury. He also is accused of pulling teeth from six patients who had no need for extractions, as well as submitting claims to Medicare and Medicaid for procedures he did not perform.

•  Dr. Christopher Nelson of Louisville’s Bluegrass Pain Consultants, is accused of teaming with a Florida pharmacy, AssuredRx, to defraud Medicare and Tricare, a health-insurance plan for veterans, by inflating drug costs. Nelson is accused in a kickback and bribe scheme to funnel customers to Assured Rx for drugs used for pain, including controlled substances. Nelson has pleaded not guilty.

•  Dr. Ijaz Mahmood, who operates a clinic in Elizabethtown, charged with authorizing prescriptions for drugs, including controlled substances, through presigned, blank prescriptions and directing employees, including some who weren’t licensed to practice medicine, to perform medical services on patients. Mahmood told a Courier Journal reporter that he didn’t want to discuss the charges.

•  Dr. Scotty Akers and Serissa L. Collier, who also used the last name Stamper, are charged in an indictment with distributing the opioids hydrocodone, oxycodone and fentanyl between August 2016 and May 2018. Both are from Pikeville.

•  Dr. Mohammed A.H. Mazumder of Prestonsburg, who owned Appalachian Primary Care, is charged with telling his employees, who were not doctors, to receive patients at the clinic when he was not there. The indictment says a medical technician evaluated patients, then two receptionists called pharmacies with prescription orders for opioids and other controlled substances under Mazumder’s name. The clinic then submitted claims to Medicare and Medicaid as if Mazumder had examined the patients and ordered the prescriptions.

•  Dr. Sai P. Gutti, who has offices in Pikeville, Harold, Paintsville, Whitesburg and Belfry and also saw patients in Frankfort and other Kentucky towns, is accused of eight counts of health-care fraud by ordering medically unnecessary drug tests for Medicare and Medicaid patients.

•  Gary Green of Louisville is accused of failing to inform the Drug Enforcement Administration when he transferred and stored controlled substances in the offices of Guaranteed Total Construction, for which he acted as a registered agent; of furnishing false and fraudulent information in, and omitting material information from documents required to be made, kept, and filed.

The Justice Department says it has targeted doctors, health-care companies and drug manufacturers and distributors for their roles in the opioid epidemic that killed 47,600 Americans in 2017. “Benczkowski said he created the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force late last year to target the region, which has been devastated by the epidemic,” the Post reports. “The department analyzed several databases to identify suspicious prescribing activity and sent 14 prosecutors to 11 federal districts there. . . .Once they had the data indicating suspicious prescriptions, investigators used confidential informants and undercover agents to infiltrate medical offices across the region. Cameras and tape recorders were rolling as they documented how medical professionals used their licenses to peddle highly addictive opioids in exchange for cash and sex, officials said.”

The indictments merited a statement from Attorney General William Barr: “The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history, and Appalachia has suffered the consequences more than perhaps any other region.”
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