CINCINNATI – They were medical professionals but they traded prescription pain pillsfor 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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
More: See the full list of those indicted.