Doctor's Illegal Opioid Prescriptions Lead to Five Deaths: Officials

Avery Hurt

January 26, 2022

An Alaska physician has been sentenced to 34 months in prison followed by 3 years of supervised release and fined $25,000 for illegally dispensing and distributing controlled substances to his patients.

According to court documents, between January 2014 and October 2019, family physician David Chisholm, 64, of Wasilla, Alaska, wrote more than 20,000 prescriptions to approximately 350 patients for oxycodone, methadone, and hydrocodone, often prescribing the pills using variations of patients' names in an attempt to avoid being red- flagged by payers.

When Walmart refused to continue filling the prescriptions, Chisholm told his staff to advise the patients to use other pharmacies. In addition, he often prescribed combinations of medications, such as concurrent opioids, benzodiazepines, sedatives, and carisoprodol, thus increasing the chances that his patients would become addicted to or overdose on the drugs. Chisholm, who pleaded guilty in June, acknowledged to federal officials that his prescriptions were a significant contributing factor to the overdose deaths of five of his patients during this time, according to a statement by the US Attorney's Office for the District of Alaska.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, Chisholm, who was not board certified in pain medicine, said his reason for prescribing the drugs was not to make money but to help patients suffering from chronic pain and because he enjoyed the challenge.

Chisholm's attorney, Nick Oberheiden, told CNN his client "sacrificed his reputation as a patient advocate and his years of service to the Alaskan community" in overprescribing opioids. "He expressed his sincere remorse in open court and he accepts the consequences of his misconduct. He hopes that his case serves as a warning to other physicians facing the same dilemma when treating chronic pain."

He surrendered his medical license in November 2020 before being formally charged in April 2021.

Texas Hospital CEO, Seven Doctors Settle Kickback

A hospital executive and seven physicians have agreed to pay a total of $1.1 million to settle allegations that they violated the Anti-Kickback Statute and Stark Law. The eight have also agreed to cooperate in investigations and litigation involving other parties.

The Texas physicians involved in the settlement are internist Jaspaul Bhangoo, MD, of Denton; family physician Robert Megna, DO, of Ferris; cardiologist Baxter Montgomery, MD, of Houston; internist Murtaza Mussaji, DO, of Houston; family physician David Sneed, DO, of Austin; family physician Kevin Lewis, DO, of Houston; and family physician Angela Mosley-Nunnery, MD, of Kingwood.

Also settling was Richard DeFoore, former chief executive officer of Jones County Regional Healthcare (dba Stamford Memorial Hospital).

The physicians were accused of accepting payments from organizations in exchange for ordering lab tests from True Health Diagnostics, Little River Healthcare, and Boston Heart. The payments to the physicians were disguised as investment returns but, according to the allegations, were in fact offered in exchange for the doctors' referrals. DeFoore, the hospital executive involved in the settlement, allegedly oversaw a similar scheme that benefited the now-defunct Stamford Memorial.

"Paying kickbacks to physicians distorts the medical decision-making process, corrupts our healthcare system, and increases the cost of healthcare funded by the taxpayer," Brit Featherston, US attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, said in a statement announcing the agreement. "Laboratories, marketers, and physicians cannot immunize their conduct by attempting to disguise the kickbacks as some sort of investment arrangement."

Practice Administrative Assistant Sentenced for Fraudulent Prescriptions

An administrative assistant at an Illinois orthopedics office was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison for writing fraudulent prescriptions for opioids.

Amanda Biesiada, 39, of Alsip, Illinois, who worked as an administrative assistant at Hinsdale Orthopaedics in Westmont, Illinois, was not a licensed physician and could not legally write the prescriptions unless instructed to do so and supervised by licensed doctors.

According to a statement by the US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois, the prescriptions for hydrocodone, oxycodone, and other controlled substances — 85 prescriptions in all from 2017 to 2019 — were made out to an acquaintance of Biesiada's and written without the knowledge or approval of the providers in whose names she wrote them.

Federal officials said Biesiada attempted to conceal the fraudulent prescriptions by marking them "filed in error" in the practice's prescription system.

Lab Owner Pleads Guilty to $6.9 Million Testing Fraud Scheme

A Florida lab owner has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud Medicare through false and fraudulent claims totaling more than $6.9 million.

According to court documents, Christopher Licata, 45, of Delray Beach, Florida, admitted to bribing patient brokers to refer orders for medically unnecessary genetic testing to his lab. The tests were then billed to Medicare.

Licata and the patient brokers entered sham agreements meant to disguise the true purpose of the payments, according to a statement from the US Department of Justice (DOJ). The 45-year-old owner of Boca Toxicology LLC (dba Lab Dynamics) pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit healthcare fraud.

The scheme began in 2018; however, once the pandemic began, Licata shifted strategies, playing on patients' fears of COVID-19 to bundle inexpensive COVID tests with more expensive medically unnecessary tests. These tests included respiratory pathogen panels and genetic testing for cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and other illnesses. In all, Licata's laboratory submitted over $6.9 million in false and fraudulent claims to Medicare for these unnecessary tests, according to the DOJ statement.

The case is a part of the US Attorney General's COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force that was established to enhance the efforts of agencies and governments across the country to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud.

Licata faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for March 24.

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