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More and more healthcare professionals are being held accountable for their part in the opioid epidemic surging through the United States. Prescription rates are at an all time high, with enough prescription opioids in the country for every adult to have their own bottle of pills. According to a 2014 survey of people in treatment for opioid addiction, 94% of those people said they chose to use heroin due to the high cost of prescription opioids that were “far more expensive and harder to obtain.” Now five more doctors in West Virginia are being indicted on charges for writing illegal prescriptions for the powerful drug addiction treatment drug Suboxone.
The five doctors who all worked for Redirections Treatment Advocates, LLC, included Dr. Krishan Kumar Aggarwal, 73, of Moon Township, who worked in Weirton, West Virginia; Dr. Madhu Aggarwal, 68, also of Moon Township, who worked in Bridgeville; Dr. Parth Bharill, 69, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who worked in Morgantown, W. Va.; Dr. Cherian John, 65, of Coraopolis, Pennsylvania who also worked in Weirton; and Dr. Michael Bummer, 38, of Sewickley, PA who worked in Washington, PA.
The charges came as part of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit formed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2017. The unit — a part of the Department of Justice — uses data to target opioid-related health care fraud. The investigation was conducted with the cooperation of multiple government agencies, including the FBI, U.S. Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General, Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service- Criminal Investigations, Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General-Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Attorney’s Office-Criminal Division, Civil Division and Asset Forfeiture Unit, Department of Veterans Affairs-Office of Inspector General, Food and Drug Administration-Office of Criminal Investigations, and the Pennsylvania Bureau of Licensing.
“Today we are facing the worst drug crisis in American history, with one American dying of a drug overdose every nine minutes,” Sessions said in a statement. “It's incredible but true that some of our trusted medical professionals have chosen to violate their oaths and exploit this crisis for profit.”
All defendants in Thursday’s indictment are charged with creating and distributing unlawful prescriptions for buprenorphine, (the generic name for Suboxone), conspiracy to unlawfully distribute buprenorphine, and health care fraud. The fraud charge is a result of alleged fraudulent claims submitted to Medicare or Medicaid for payments to cover the costs of the prescribed buprenorphine.
Buprenorphine is a key component of Subutex and Suboxone, which is used to treat opioid addiction. Buprenorphine is used to stave off painful symptoms of opioid withdrawal and lessen cravings. It is a Schedule III controlled substance. According to the National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment, the substance has a lower potential for misuse. For that reason, it is prescribed in a pill form that does not require the patient to take the medication in a secured medical setting, but in the comfort of their own home. Unlike the alternative withdrawal medication Methadone, which is dispensed at clinics under the supervision of trained medical professionals under a doctor’s prescription.
Each of the five doctors could each face a maximum of 30 years in prison if found guilty of all three charges. Maximum fines imposed could be up to $1.5 million dollars.
Last March, Christopher Handa, the Manager of RTA, was indicted on four counts of unlawfully dispensing controlled substances and health insurance fraud. He is facing up to 40 years in prison if convicted.