CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Ten doctors have been charged with overprescribing pain pills from clinics in West Virginia and Virginia, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday. Two of those patients died.
Most of the 69-count indictment charges the owners, managers and physicians associated with Hope Clinic with conspiracy to distribute oxycodone and other controlled substances that weren’t for legitimate medical purposes from 2010 to 2015. Hope Clinic had offices in Beckley, Beaver, and Charleston, West Virginia, and Wytheville, Virginia.
The indictment said the defendants allegedly laundered drug proceeds by paying bonuses to physicians and employees of a patient screening firm to encourage prescribing opioids. It said the owners knew customers were drug addicts, adding some customers were prescribed more than 2,000 prescription pills over a one-year period.
“Home-grown drug dealers hidden behind the veil of a doctor’s lab coat, a medical degree and a prescription pad, are every bit as bad as the heroin dealers that flood into West Virginia,” U.S. Attorney Michael Stuart said at a news conference. “We’re not going to tolerate it.”
One of the physicians, Sanjay Mehta, was charged with distributing a controlled substance that caused the deaths of two patients in 2013. And in a related case, another physician was charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering in a federal information document, which signals a defendant is cooperating.
Owner Dr. James H. Blume Jr. and manager Mark T. Radcliffe face additional charges of maintaining a drug-involved premises. The indictment said they operated a cash-based clinic, refused to accept insurance, charged in-state customers at least $275 for an initial appointment and at least $160 for each subsequent appointment.
It said patients were not required to have a physician’s referral and that the clinic hired medical professionals with no background or special training in pain management.
Thirteen people were charged overall. The charges for the various defendants carry maximum penalties ranging from 20 to 340 years upon conviction.
Mehta and Radcliffe didn’t immediately return telephone messages seeking comment Tuesday night. A telephone listing for Blume could not be located.
The indictment said the owners used former narcotics officers to screen patients. In 2014, a clinic representative testified before state lawmakers about the screening practice, and some lawmakers were concerned that employees should not replace doctors for reviewing and monitoring patients’ prescriptions.
The indictment is the result of a four-year investigation by nearly a dozen federal, state and local agencies.