The abuse of prescription drugs in America is now at a level that can easily be called epidemic: each month, more than 7 million Americans are using in a non-medical context.
California is also seeing the effects of this startling increase in painkiller abuse; not just through the actions of the addicts, but the criminals who supply them. In this case, two doctors, among others, are at fault, resulting in untold costs to taxpayers.
In October 2011, authorities discovered an illegal operation involving OxyContin and Medicare fraud, which led to the arrest of 10 people, of which two were physicians.
This OxyContin ring, centered in a Westlake medical facility, involved doctors that wrote unnecessary prescriptions out to the names of Medi-Cal and Medicare patients, some of whom were victims of identity theft. The public insurance associations then footed the bill for the pills.
This permitted the ring to receive the medication at a steeply discounted price, making a significant amount of money when they resold the drugs on the street, anywhere from $23 to $25 dollars for one pill. This resulted in an estimated illegal profit of about $25 million. The ringleader profited from a network of recruiters that would bring in Medicare and Medi-Cal patients to the clinic, where they would be prescribed the pills by doctors, even if the drug was unnecessary for medical treatment. Though some patients’ public insurance numbers had been stolen in order to bill, in some instances the patients were paid off to lend their numbers; between $300 and $500. The ring then billed Medicare and Medi-Cal using a company run by one of the directors of the Westlake facility.
This case holds a lot of importance for the West Coast: it is the first of its kind to be prosecuted in the area. It also unites two new kinds of cases, drug trafficking organizations and fraud against government-run and taxpayer-supported insurance programs. This kind of crime is a blatant indication of prescription drug abuse in California that has only increased over the last 10 to 15 years; along with the number of deaths resulting from overdoses.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2007, 12,000 people died from an opioid overdose. The augmented availability of opioid drugs may have a direct correlation with the increase in their abuse. The CDC reported a 400% rise in the prescribing of pain medication over an 18-year span, starting in 1991. California has also seen the results of this wave of drug abuse: according to the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, over the last five years, the number of OxyContin addicts seeking treatment has almost doubled.