In Los Angeles, 14 people have been charged with running a scheme to obtain OxyContin pills through insurance fraud and distribute them on the street for millions of dollars in profits. The drug distribution ring included two doctors and the operators of a clinic owned by Lake Medical Group. Members of the ring are suspected of reselling more than 1 million OxyContin pills on the street.
According to federal officials, the clinic’s doctors wrote fraudulent prescriptions for the powerful painkiller and billed Medicare and Medical. Most of the prescriptions were written for patients who did not need a painkiller.
Members of the ring are also alleged to have committed identity theft and used stolen Medicare beneficiary information to obtain OxyContin. Among those charged were Dr. Morris Halfnon, aged 88, Dr. Eleanor Santiago, aged 73, and pharmacist Theodore Yoon.
The clinic used recruiters, referred to as “cappers,” who offered Medicare and Medi-Cal patients up to $500 to fill prescriptions for OxyContin at local pharmacies, including Yoon’s. Runners escorted patients to pharmacies and then took the pills from them. The pills, which cost about $6 each, were sold on the street for about $25 per pill. The prescriptions written by Lake Medical Group were not reported to the California state prescription monitoring system.
Members of the OxyContin distribution ring face charges of heath care fraud and conspiracy. The group is also charged with billing Medi-Cal and Medicare for more than $6 million for medical procedures that were not required or were never performed. Possible sentences for the charges range from 10 to 40 years for each suspect.
This case is one of several involving Los Angeles doctors who have written large numbers of illegal prescriptions for OxyContin and other addictive prescription drugs.
• In August, authorities arrested members of a smuggling ring who were taking OxyContin and other narcotic prescription drugs across the border to Mexico to be sold over the counter in Mexican pharmacies to mostly Americans. Dr. Tyron Reece, a 71-year-old physician from Inglewood, was charged with writing prescriptions for over 900,000 OxyContin and Vicodin tablets in a single year.
• In July, 72-year-old Dr. Nazar Al Bussum plead guilty to writing more than 60,000 illegal prescriptions for OxyContin, methadone, Soma, Xanax and other addictive prescription drugs. According to the Los Angeles Times, the doctor was associated with at least 5 drug-related deaths. He could have received a sentence of up to 230 years, but because of his age received instead a 7-year sentence.
The common thread in these cases is that the doctors are older and past the age of retirement. It’s unknown why they chose to end their careers by disgracing their profession and causing harm to so many people. These doctors appear to have let greed overshadow their responsibility as doctors to do no harm to their patients.