A dozen physicians from Ohio and Michigan were sentenced to prison on Wednesday for their involvement in a $250 million healthcare fraud scheme that exploited patients suffering from opioid addiction, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced.
The 12 individuals were among the 16 defendants who allegedly refused to distribute opioids to patients suffering from addiction unless they agreed to unnecessary back injections — one of the highest reimbursable medical procedures, officials said. The physicians illegally distributed 6.6 million opioid doses.
The scheme unfolded between 2007 and 2018, at a multi-state network of pain clinics frequented by patients suffering from addiction who sought prescription drugs such as oxycodone. The doctors who worked at the clinics agreed to work just a few hours a week so that they could “stay under the radar” — yet, they were some of the highest prescribers of oxycodone in the state of Michigan, officials said.
According to court documents, doctors involved in the scheme refused to give patients opioids unless they submitted to expensive, medically unnecessary, and sometimes painful facet joint injections. Many patients said in trial testimony that they experienced worse pain from the shots than from the pain they needed treatment for in the first place, and some faced adverse outcomes such as open holes in their backs.
The defendants were paid more money for these type of injections than any other medical clinic in the U.S.
“It is unconscionable that doctors and health care professionals would violate their oath to do no harm and exploit vulnerable patients struggling with addiction,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite, Jr., of the Justice Department’s criminal division, in a press release. “These are not just crimes of greed, these are crimes that make this country’s opioid crisis even worse — and that is why the department will continue to relentlessly pursue these cases.”
Physicians and other defendants involved in this scheme used the proceeds to fuel their luxury lifestyles, officials said. Francisco Patino, MD, bought jewelry, cars and vacations, and paid mixed martial arts fighters to promote his specialized diet program. Mashiyat Rashid, Patino’s business partner, bought private jet flights, courtside tickets to the NBA Finals, and expensive real estate. Other clinicians chose to spend their fraudulent earnings on indoor basketball courts, swimming pools or gold bars, the agency stated.
The defendants forfeited more than $16 million of their fraud proceeds to the federal government. The prison sentences for the physicians involved in the scheme range from 10 months to 9 years. Seven additional defendants await sentencing.