6 clinicians get 2 to 20 years prison in separate opioid cases

Since April 1, Becker's has reported on physicians in California, Michigan, Ohio, New York and Texas, and a nurse in North Carolina, who were sentenced to prison terms of between 2.5 and 20 years for the respective opioid cases brought against them.

1. Former California physician Thomas Keller, MD, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for illegally prescribing drugs leading to the overdose death of a 17-year-old patient, the Justice Department said April 7.

Mr. Keller, 75, was indicted Sept. 27, 2018, after repeatedly prescribing "high dosage levels" of oxycodone, carisoprodol and diazepam — a combination known colloquially as "the Holy Trinity" — to the teen patient. She was struggling with mental health issues and died of an overdose of oxycodone and other drugs.

Mr. Keller first prescribed oxycodone to the patient in December 2016, distributed diazepam to her in January 2017, and distributed more oxycodone to her in February 2017, the Justice Department said. He distributed the muscle relaxer carisoprodol to her on July 10, 2017, and she fatally overdosed two weeks later.

2. David Jankowski, DO, was sentenced to a statutory maximum of 20 years in prison and ordered to forfeit more than $40 million for running two pill mills in Michigan, the Justice Department said April 26.

Dr. Jankowski was convicted July 11 on 30 charges related to the unlawful distribution of schedule II, III and IV controlled substances and healthcare fraud, the Justice Department said. He prescribed drugs including Oxycontin, Oxycodone, morphine, hydrocodone and Xanax after receiving cash from recruiters who brought patients to his purported clinic, Summit Medical Group, formerly in Dearborn Heights and Southfield, Mich.

Dr. Jankowski persuaded one patient to receive unnecessary shoulder surgery in return for prescribing medically unnecessary controlled substances, the Justice Department said. He issued or authorized the issuance of more than 1 million opioid pills for no legitimate medical purpose, and in exchange for money. 

3. Denton, Texas-based family medicine physician Stanley Charles Evans, MD, was sentenced to 40 months in prison for opioid charges, the Justice Department said May 19. 

Dr. Evans, who operated a Denton-based family medicine practice, illegally prescribed about 370,000 doses of hydrocodone without a legitimate medical purpose, the department said. He pre-signed prescriptions for patients exhibiting drug-seeking behavior, who were then only seen by his four nurse practitioners.

The NPs saw 20-30 patients per day, and that instead of being paid a set salary, their pay was based on a percentage of what they billed, the department said. They also billed Medicare and TriCare under Dr. Evans' medical identification number, which results in a higher charge to the government.

4. Former registered nurse Melissa Chacona, of Fuquay-Varina, N.C., was sentenced to four years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release for tampering with surgery patients' painkillers, the Justice Department said May 22.

In early 2019, Ms. Chacona, 45, who worked in a Raleigh-area surgical practice, replaced medication from vials of fentanyl, morphine and meperidine, with saline, the department said. She compromised at least 78 vials, many of which were left unsterile.

The tampered vials contained less than 15 percent of the original volume of medication, the department said.

5. Ohio physician Jeffrey Sutton, DO, was sentenced May 23 to six years in prison after he pleaded guilty to healthcare fraud and illegally prescribing and distributing opioids and other controlled substances, the Justice Department said.

Dr. Sutton admitted to engaging in sexual acts with patients he'd prescribed controlled substances to, including during office visits, the department said. He admitted to delivering opioids to the home of one of his patients, outside the course of treatment and without a valid prescription.

He was in a relationship with the patient at the time, the department said. In addition to the prison time, Dr. Sutton was sentenced to three years of supervised release, a $5,200 special assessment, a $20,000 fine and restitution of $148,870, the department said.

6. Former New York physician Frank Parasmo, MD, was sentenced to three years in prison on 32 counts of unlawfully distributing oxycodone, the Justice Department said May 25.

From 2010 to 2015, Dr. Parasmo prescribed more than 1.5 million oxycodone and hydrocodone pills, making him one of the top prescribers of those drugs statewide, the department said. After learning he was under DEA investigation, Dr. Parasmo cut his oxycodone prescription issuances by half.


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