RENO (AP) — A Nevada doctor has become the first in the state to face criminal drug distribution and health care fraud charges under a federal push to stem so-called “pill mill” physicians dispensing large amounts of powerful opioid medications with no legitimate medical purpose, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Devendra Patel, 58, was arrested in Elko and was being transported in custody to Reno, where he was due for a detention hearing Wednesday in U.S. District Court, said Trisha Young, spokeswoman for Steven Myhre, the acting U.S. attorney in Las Vegas.
It wasn’t immediately clear if Patel had a lawyer. Attorneys who represent him as plaintiff in an unrelated civil lawsuit against the corporate owner of Northeast Nevada Regional Hospital didn’t immediately respond to messages about the criminal pill mill charges.
Patel is a cardiologist who also uses the name Devendrakumar Patel. He was the first person charged in Nevada under a U.S. Justice Department effort announced in August that made the state one of 12 with a federal prosecutor focused specifically on opioid fraud and abuse, Myhre said.
Federal officials say more than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016, mostly due to opioids including fentanyl.
Patel is accused from May 2014 to September 2017 of routinely overprescribing fentanyl, hydrocodone and oxycodone for patients and of fraudulently billing Medicare and Medicaid for medical tests that he did not perform.
His 39-count indictment includes 36 charges of distribution of controlled substances and three charges of health care fraud. Each count carries a maximum possible penalty of 10 years in prison, Myhre said.
The indictment also alleges that Patel performed EKGs on his patients so he could then order nuclear stress tests which he did not administer. A release from the Justice Department said he allegedly used a poorly calibrated machine and presented his patients with fraudulent X-rays, in order to deceive his patients into thinking they had coronary issues that needed to be treated by him.
Patel received his medical degree from Baroda Medical College in Vadodara, India. He has been in practice for more than 20 years.
Officials including U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions released statements along with the announcement of Patel’s arrest.
“Today we are facing the worst drug crisis in American history, with one American dying of a drug overdose every nine minutes,” Sessions said. “This summer, I ordered the creation of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, which brings together data analysts and Assistant United States Attorneys from throughout the country to prosecute doctors engaged in opioid-related health care fraud. Additionally, I assigned a dozen of our top federal prosecutors to focus solely on this problem where the epidemic is at its worst. Prosecuting these cases help cut off the supply of drugs and stop addiction from spreading. These prosecutors are already delivering results, filing charges against doctors in Western Pennsylvania and Nevada. 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.”
“Dr. Patel is the first person to be charged in Nevada since the formation of the Justice Department’s Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Steven. W. Myhre. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to turning the tide of the prescription opioid epidemic that is plaguing our communities. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute individuals who contribute to this scourge.”
“Despite his physician’s oath to do no harm, Dr. Patel recklessly prescribed opioids, for no legitimate medical purpose,” stated FBI Special Agent in Charge Aaron C. Rouse. “The FBI is confident that today’s arrest will send a message to other physicians that are prescribing opioids outside the scope of legitimate medical care. We are committed to using every tool in our arsenal to battle the opioid crisis in the state of Nevada.”
“Our Country is in the midst of a devastating opioid crisis and DEA is using every resource available to identify the traffickers and facilitators fueling addiction in our communities,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge David J. Downing. “Healthcare professionals who abuse the public’s trust and prescribe or dispense drugs purely for profit are drug dealers, and they’re going to be held accountable.”
“To combat this opioid epidemic, OIG will never hesitate to investigate health professionals more concerned with profits than patients,” said Special Agent in Charge Christian Schrank for the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office, Los Angeles Region. “Inappropriately diagnosing patients and then prescribing medications is only compounded by the greed of sticking taxpayers with the bill.”
The case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Secret Service, Elko Combined Narcotics Unit, Nevada Department of Public Safety, and the Elko County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kilby Macfadden and Sue Fahami are prosecuting the case.
According to the Department of Justice release, more than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016 and the majority of these deaths can be attributed to opioids, including illicit fentanyl. For information about the harmful effects of illicit drug use, visit www.JustThinkTwice.com for teens, and www.GetSmartAboutDrugs.com for parents, educators and caregivers.
“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.” — Attorney General Jeff Sessions