May 9, 2014 12:36 AM by Eric Ross
Colorado is second in the nation when it comes to prescription drug abuse and the U.S. Attorney's Office says doctors are partially to blame.
News 5 has uncovered a dirty secret plaguing the profession. Some physicians are writing unnecessary prescriptions for painkillers to make big profits.
We've learned there's a statewide prescription drug monitoring system to help prevent this type of fraudulent activity, but sources tell News 5 the computer-based software is flawed.
Michael Fosket was 21 when he got into a car accident, injuring his back. To cope, doctors prescribed powerful painkillers which Michael had been taking in addition to physical therapy.
However, several months after the car accident, Michael's mother, Dawn noticed a change in his behavior.
"He started losing weight and stealing," Dawn said. "It wasn't my son. He was never that way."
Dawn feared her son was stealing to feed a prescription drug addiction, and he was through what's referred to on the streets as "doctor shopping."
The term refers to patients who go from doctor to doctor, getting prescriptions for the same medication.
Michael's autopsy shows he died of an overdose in 2012.
News 5 uncovered 7 years prior, in 2005, Colorado began a statewide drug monitoring program, or PDMP, that's supposed to prevent "doctor shopping" and save lives.
"It's information available to both prescribers and dispensers so that they can choose to look up a specific patient when are thinking about filling a prescription or writing a prescription," Ronne Hines with the Department of Regulatory Agencies said.
The statewide program is under the Department's supervision. All pharmacies are required to enter prescriptions and refills into this database.
However, pharmacies are not required to check on the patients themselves. Essentially, no one is cross checking patients who could have one, or multiple prescriptions because there's no law requiring them to do so.
Even doctors have been caught abusing the system.
Louis Hampers, the former head of the emergency room at Children's Hospital in Denver, was able to obtain 20,000 tablets of hydrocodone from 20 different pharmacies before he was caught.
How are doctors able to avoid detection?
Physicians are not required to enter any of the prescriptions they write into the database, making it hard for federal agents to keep tabs on doctors. The statewide prescription monitoring system only oversees pharmacies. Still, that does not deter the U.S. Attorney's Office from taking down doctors who break the law.
"We have focused here at the U.S. Attorney's Office working alongside the DEA on bringing to justice doctors who abuse their prescription drug authority," U.S. Attorney John Walsh said. "We've charged seven doctors, including a dentist for abuse and these are serious charges."
The motive is often money and perks from pharmaceutical companies.
Doctor Kevin Clemmer is now serving 48-months in federal prison after over-prescribing painkillers to patients, one of whom died. Undercover agents busted Clemmer after they went into his clinic and were able to able to obtain prescriptions for painkillers in a matter of minutes without a legitimate medical purpose.
The U.S. Attorney's Office says there's no special treatment when it comes to arresting these doctors.
"Doctors are like anyone else and are subject to the federal laws that prohibit illegal distribution of drugs," Walsh said.
Dawn believes her son, Michael's death was avoidable.
Had his doctor stopped prescribing him painkillers and referred him to a back surgeon, Dawn believes Michael would still be alive. She is now working with the DEA to build a case against his doctor. So far, no charges have been filed.
"They are killing people just to live in a big house and drive a nice car and that sickens me," Dawn said. "They should be ashamed."
Below are the cases prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Colorado:
U.S. v. David Hoag, DDS
Boulder dentist David Hoag was indicted (in 2009 - 2010), pled guilty, and was sentenced by Judge Krieger to serve 5 years probation for over prescribing prescription medication. Hoag, conspired with others to obtain oxycodone, hydrocodone, Lorazepam, and Zolpidem by misrepresentations, fraud and deception. Hoag had two individuals fill the prescriptions and brought half of it back to Hoag for his personal use. The two others either used or sold the rest.
U.S. v. Louis Hampers, MD
Dr. Hampers was head of the emergency room at Children's Hospital in Denver. He prescribed medication using multiple names. His motivation was not to get rich. He took most, if not all, of the medication he prescribed. Hampers illegally obtained approximately 20,000 tablets of Hydrocodone. The medication was obtained at 20 different pharmacies using five different aliases and eight different patient names. He was sentenced by Judge Blackburn to serve 5 years of supervised probation, with the first 6 months in home detention with electronic monitoring. He also was ordered to pay a $30,000 fine and undergo an extensive treatment program. He also relinquished his license to practice medicine in all 50 states, and his ability to prescribe controlled substances during the course of his supervised probation.
U.S. v. Kevin Clemmer, DO
Kevin Clemmer, of Evergreen, knowingly and intentionally distributed and dispensed oxycodone outside the scope of professional practice and not for legitimate medical purposes. Clemmer was sentenced by Judge Blackburn to 48 months in federal prison for illegally dispensing controlled substances and money laundering. During the course of the investigation the defendant wrote illegal prescriptions for painkillers to an undercover officer as well as two co?defendants. On September 2, 2010, the defendant did prescribe oxycodone to one individual. On September 3, 2010, that individual died. The cause of death is listed as an accidental aspiration of gastric contents associated with oxycodone toxicity. The prescription written by the defendant (with numerous pills missing) was found at the scene of the death, as well as other pain pills which were not prescribed by the defendant. The defendant's prescription helped contribute to the death of this individual. The death, however, was not a charged offense as part of this investigation or indictment. On May 20, 2010, the defendant met with an undercover officer. The undercover officer described minimal pain management needs and symptoms which did not require, as part of the scope of professional practice, the prescription of oxycodone. However, the defendant did prescribe 120 pills of 15 milligram oxycodone to the undercover officer after a very limited medical screen and evaluation.
U.S. v. Joseph Ferrara, MD
Dr. Joseph Ferrara and five others were indicted by a federal grand jury in Denver. Ferrara had a medical practice in Wheat Ridge and in Dillon. At least one patient who received drugs from Ferrara died as a result. Dr. Joseph Ferrara, of Dillon, Colorado, in conjunction with co-conspirators dispensed and distributed controlled substances to patients at times and in circumstances outside the usual course of professional medical practice, and for a purpose other than legitimate medical purpose, with death resulting from the use of the controlled substances. During the course of the scheme, Dr. Ferrara prescribed drugs such as: oxycodone, morphine, methadone, oxymorphone, hydromorphone, hydrocodone, amphetamines, carisoprodol, alprazolam, clonazepam, lorazepam, triazolam, and zolpidem tartrate to patients without determining a sufficient medical necessity for the prescription of these controlled substances. In concert with his co-conspirators, the doctor dispensed and distributed these drugs to patients in quantities and dosages that would allow patients to abuse, misuse, and become addicted to them, while failing to adequately address the misuse and abuse of the prescribed controlled substances by patients. Dr. Ferrara and his co-conspirators, worked interdependently to obtain payment for services rendered outside the course of usual professional practice by taking cash, checks, and credit cards from those he distributed to. Insurance was not accepted. The dispensing and distribution of controlled substances to patients were in such high quantities, in such combinations, and at such levels that retail pharmaceutical outlets called the Drug Enforcement Administration to report suspicious prescribing practices. This case is still pending.
U.S. v. Sam Jahani, MD and Eric Peper, DO
Two Western Colorado doctors, Sam Jahani, MD and Eric Peper, DO, were indicted by a federal grand jury on August 3, 2011, on charges related to health care fraud, money laundering and dispensing controlled substances in which four cases resulted in death. Jahani and Peper, who ran an Urgent Care on the Western Slope allegedly prescribed controlled substances to patients without determining a sufficient medical necessity for the prescription to patients in a manner which was inconsistent with the usual course of professional practice and for other than legitimate medical purposes. Further, they caused patients to fill prescriptions for controlled substances at various pharmacies, allowing the pharmacies to file claims and obtain reimbursement for those prescriptions from health care benefit programs used by the patients submitting the prescriptions. As part of the scheme, Jahani and Peper prescribed controlled substances in quantities and dosages that would cause patients to abuse, misuse, and become addicted to the controlled substances. They also allegedly prescribed controlled substances to patients knowing that their patients were addicted to the controlled substances, misusing the controlled substances, or "doctor?shopping". They also prescribed controlled substances knowing that their prescribing endangered their patients' lives, and if taken as directed, their prescriptions would be expected to result in accidental fatal overdoses. The controlled substances prescribed to patients were of such strength that their prescribing became a contributing factor in the patients' overdose deaths. The prescriptions written by both doctors included Schedule II pain killers, including Oxycodone (such as Percocet and OxyContin), Morphine, Methadone and Fentanyl; Schedule III pain killers, (such as Vicodin); and Schedule IV anti?anxiety medications, such as Xanax, Valium, Ativan Ambien and Klonopin. As a result of the doctor's prescription practices, the indictment alleges that four people died. This case is still pending.
U.S. v. Joel Miller, DO
Joel Miller of Craig, Colorado was indicted by a federal grand jury in August of 2013 on charges of prescribing drugs resulting in deaths. Joel E. Miller, age 55, of Craig, Colorado, was a licensed physician in the state of Colorado and obtained Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree in 1990. Approximately between May 2008 and September 2012, Miller prescribed controlled substances to patients without determining a sufficient medical necessity for the prescription of controlled substances; prescribed controlled substances to patients in a manner which was inconsistent with the usual course of professional practice and for other than legitimate medical purpose; and prescribed pharmaceuticals to patients for whom the prescription was not intended, and directed the persons to whom he prescribed the pharmaceuticals to give the prescription to third parties. Furthermore, Miller prescribed controlled substances in quantities and dosages that would cause patients to abuse, misuse, and become addicted to the controlled substances. He also pre-signed prescriptions and allowed office employees to distribute controlled substance prescriptions to patients in his absence and without a doctor's examination of the patient. According to the indictment, in August of 2010, Miller dispensed and distributed to a patient hydrocodone, alprazolam and clonazepam, which resulted in the death of the patient. The indictment also alleges that in May 2012, Miller dispensed and distributed to a patient hydrocodone, and diazepam, which also resulted in death. This case is still pending.