Latest Fed Opioid Takedown Includes Physician Adviser to Pro Fighters

Alicia Ault

June 29, 2018

A Michigan doctor and self-styled fitness guru and adviser to mixed martial arts (MMA) and ultimate fighting championship (UFC) fighters — who allegedly prescribed some 2.2 million opioid pills over 2 years — is one of 601 people, among them 76 doctors, 23 pharmacists, and 19 nurses, being indicted for healthcare fraud by the federal government.

The US Department of Justice announced on June 28 that it was handing down the indictments, which included 32 doctors accused of illegal distribution of opioids. The crimes reportedly resulted in over $2 billion in losses.

Frank Patino, MD, from Livonia, Michigan, was the state's top opioid prescriber from 2016 to 2017, dispensing 2.2 million pills of "medically unnecessary" oxycodone, fentanyl, and oxymorphone, according to Patino's indictment. Some of those pills later ended up being resold on the street, according to the indictment.

Dr Frank Patino (Facebook)

Appearing in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, the 63-year-old Patino was charged with helping to run a wide-ranging health fraud conspiracy that included MMA and UFC fighters the physician sponsored and advised. Patino — who allegedly fraudulently billed Medicare and Medicaid some $112 million — could face up to 40 years in federal prison.

"Some of our most trusted medical professionals look at their patients — vulnerable people suffering from addiction — and they see dollar signs," said US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in remarks announcing the indictments yesterday.

Self-help and Ham

Patino, a Cuban immigrant, portrayed himself on social media as a muscle-bound fitness devotee dedicated to helping people find a better quality of life.

He promoted his Patino Diet — which he said focused on low-glycemic foods — through a Facebook page, YouTube videos, and a book, The Age of Globesity: Entering the Perfect Storm.

Patino was also known for his philanthropy, including medical charity work in Cuba and Haiti, and, in 2014, for giving away several hundred hams to residents of Pontiac, Michigan, according to The Detroit News .

But the feds say that beginning at least in 2008, Patino also masterminded a conspiracy to defraud the government that centered around opioids.

Patino owned and operated two clinical practices — Global Quality, Inc, and Renaissance Age Management — and two diagnostics labs, all of which were participants in Medicare and Medicaid.

The indictment claims that Patino forced patients to undergo sham facet joint injections before they could receive opioids. He billed Medicare and Medicaid for the $5500 injections. The health programs denied payment for 100% of the injections, and yet Patino continued his allegedly illegal activities, according to the indictment.

The Michigan Board of Medicine had been separately investigating Patino. In 2010, the board issued Patino a cease-and-desist order for violations related to controlled substances, including medications being transferred to people other than the patient, and storing and dispensing drugs at locations where he did not have a drug-control license.

In 2014, Patino signed a consent order and paid a $5000 fine after a woman filed a complaint with the medical board claiming that someone had used her identity to obtain 30-mg oxycodone pills from him.

The medical board had found multiple instances of Patino issuing 120 or more 30-mg oxycodone pills to people who sought treatment for low back pain. He did so without having taken medical histories or checking the state prescription drug management program, according to the complaint. Many of the cases investigated by the board had been "doctor shopping" and received prescriptions from other physicians before visiting Patino.

According to the federal indictment, Patino also allegedly solicited kickbacks and bribes relating to his labs, and used some of the ill-gotten money to sponsor MMA and UFC fighters, who would then advertise his Patino Diet.

At least one fighter, Joshua Burns, has also been indicted. Burns allegedly received kickbacks from Patino for ordering lab tests and urine screens from the Patino-owned labs.

Medscape Medical News attempted to reach Brian Lennon, who is reportedly acting as Patino's attorney, but did not hear back by press time. The Detroit News reported that, according to Lennon, Patino "denies the allegations and expects to be fully vindicated at the end of this."

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