Opioid Fraud Unit Nabs First Indictment of Doctor

The DOJ’s Opioid Fraud Unit is Seeing Movement in The Courts

opioid fraudThe Department of Justice’s newly formed Opioid Fraud Unit is seeing a bit of movement in the court’s system.  According to the blog White-Collared from Lexology, the Opioid Fraud Unit got its first indictment of what it considers an opioid dealer in the form a Pennsylvania physician.

The Indictment

According to White-Collared, a Pittsburgh-area physician has been indicted on 14-counts alleging unlawful distribution of controlled substances and conspiracy.  The indictment was filed last week and says that physician, Andrzej Zielke, wrote prescriptions for oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone for “non-medical purposes” on at least 13 occasions.  The blog says that Zielke also charged patients $250 and that many traveled quite a way to see him.

The actual law he may be breaking is federal regulation 21 C.F.R. § 1306.04(a) which requires prescriptions to be issued only for “a legitimate medical purpose by an individual practitioner acting in the usual course of his professional practice.”  The Opioid Fraud Unit is targeting doctors ignoring this regulation.  The DOJ is becoming increasingly focused on overprescribing as a means to clamp down on the opioid epidemic.  The blog says that the Opioid Fraud Unit is looking into physicians that seem to run a mostly “cash only” medical practice, “lack of physical exams, prescribing without using opioid monitoring databases, prescribing dangerous combinations of drugs, prescribing to known addicts, and directing patients to use pharmacies known for lax dispensing practices.”

The Opioid Fraud Unit

The blog points out that the unit was just created in August.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced its creation to target 12 federal districts the DOJ thinks have been hit the hardest by the opioid epidemic.  The Opioid Fraud Unit uses data to find and target doctors or clinics they believe are overprescribing opioids.  They also want to go after pharmacists who are not properly distributing the pills.

This arrest is in the Western Pennsylvania district, an area that acting U.S. Attorney Soo Song says is experiencing some of the highest rates of overdose deaths in the nation.  She goes on to explain that law enforcement will aggressively target drug traffickers on the street and who “traffic under the guise of physicians writing excessive prescriptions.”

White-Collared also quotes Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the first indictment, “we have filed the first charges by these prosecutors. We will file many more charges in the months to come – because the Department of Justice will be relentless in hunting down drug dealers and turning the tide of this epidemic.”

Conflicting Agendas?

This indictment comes just as The Washington Post, is reporting members of Congress joined forces with the big pharma and passed a law that undercut the DEA in pursuing opioid related cases against the pharmaceutical industry.  The paper says that law was a campaign by the drug industry to weaken DEA enforcement efforts.  The DEA claims that big pharma is supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who help feed the opioid crisis.  The article says the drug industry worked with lobbyists and donated millions to members of Congress to ensure the law would pass.  After the original story was published, the orchestrator of the law that The Posts says undercuts the DEA, Rep. Tom Marino, backed out of consideration to be this administration’s “drug czar.”

So, it remains unclear where lawmakers seem to come down on the opioid epidemic.  However, if this indictment is any indication, law enforcement, particularly the Opioid Fraud Unit, is targeting the doctors themselves and steering clear of big pharma, for now.

Jeffrey A. Newman represents whistleblowers: 1-800-682-7157