In today’s changing climate of addiction, where prescription drug abuse has surpassed illegal drug abuse, the drug dealers are often members of the medical profession. This again became evident this week in a Los Angeles federal courtroom when Dr. Nazar Al Bussum pled guilty to drug distribution charges. The 72-year-old geriatric physician, who lives in the exclusive community of Newport Coast but operated clinics in Downy and Los Angeles, could be sentenced to as many as 230 years in prison and fined up to $11.5 million.

Al Bussum is charged with writing prescriptions for narcotic painkillers, codeine cough syrup and anti-anxiety medication for patients who had no medical need for the drugs. The majority of the prescriptions were for oxycodone, hydrocodone and Xanax – all highly addictive substances. Federal prosecutors estimate that he wrote more than 60,000 prescriptions between 2007 and 2010, making as much as $1 million per year by prescribing drugs that often ended up being sold on the street.

Federal investigators targeted Al Bussum after his name showed up as one of the top 10 prescribers of controlled prescription drugs in the Los Angeles area. During the investigation, some of the drugs prescribed by Al Bussum were tracked to street-level drug dealers in California and Texas.

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, Al Bussum wrote prescriptions for cash-paying customers including undercover DEA agents. Agents reported that the only question he asked patients was “what drug do you want?” He wrote prescriptions without doing a medical exam or ascertaining that the patient had a legitimate medical problem. One undercover agent even told Al Bussum that he was using oxycodone for recreational purposes and still was given a prescription for the drug.

In a prepared statement, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. charged Al Bussum with abusing his position in the medical profession to line his pockets. He violated his oath as a doctor to ‘do no harm’ and contributed to the problem of prescription drug abuse.

As part of a plea agreement, Al Bussum pled guilty to an 18-count indictment. He also agreed to forfeit $450,000 in cash that was found in a search of his home at the time of his arrest. He is barred from practicing medicine or writing prescriptions before his sentencing, which is expected to take place in October. According to the Orange County Register, Al Bussum’s guilty plea is most likely part of a legal strategy aimed at getting his case into appeal. His attorney, Benjamin Gluck, will attempt to introduce evidence that the doctor wrote prescriptions to treat drug addiction. Al Bussum is currently free on bond.