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Release No. 10-065
April 13, 2010
WEST HOLLYWOOD PSYCHIATRIST, OFFICE MANAGER ARRESTED ON CHARGES OF WRITING HUGE NUMBER OF PRESCRIPTIONS FOR ADDICTIVE DRUGS WITHOUT EXAMINING CASH-PAYING ‘PATIENTS’
A doctor who maintains a clinic in West Hollywood and his office manager were arrested this afternoon on federal charges of conspiring to distribute controlled substances for writing thousands of prescriptions for highly addictive drugs for “patients” he did not examine and who simply paid cash for the prescriptions.
Dr. Nathan Kuemmerle, 37, of Hollywood, was arrested without incident at his residence by special agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration and officers with the Redondo Beach Police Department.
Antonie “Tony” Phillips, 28, of the Koreatown district of Los Angeles, was also arrested without incident this afternoon at Kuemmerle’s clinic.
Both men were charged in a criminal complaint filed on Friday in United States District court that accuses both of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, a charge that carries a penalty of up to 20 years in federal prison.
The arrests follow a joint investigation by the Redondo Beach Police Department and the DEA’s Tactical Diversion Squad, which is charged with investigating all allegations of diversion of legal drugs into the illicit market. The investigation used informants and undercover techniques to develop a 98-page affidavit that outlines how Kuemmerle received patients without appointments, wrote prescriptions for drugs like Adderall and Xanax during meetings that lasted only a few minutes, and took cash payments that he simply stuffed into his pockets.
After analyzing Kuemmerle’s prescribing history and reviewing undercover tapes made at the medical clinic, a San Diego-based psychiatrist concluded that “there is overwhelming evidence that Dr. Kuemmerle is running a quintessential ‘pill mill.’” From the beginning of 2006 through late November 2009, Kuemmerle wrote 14,529 prescriptions for a variety of controlled substances, meaning that he averaged 15 prescriptions during his normal five-hour workday, according to the report by Dr. Steven Ornish, who is also an associate clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego.
“Dr. Kuemmerle’s professional conduct has been egregious, grossly negligent, flagrantly incompetent, and dangerous, and this is not a close call,” Dr. Ornish wrote.
The affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, where Dr. Ornish’s report is summarized, also notes that during 2009 Kuemmerle wrote more prescriptions for the largest available dosage of amphetamine salts – the generic name for Adderall – than any other doctor in California, and that he wrote 3½ times more amphetamine salts prescriptions than the number two prescriber of the drug. The affidavit also notes that an analysis of records from the years 2006 through November 2009 shows that Kuemmerle was the state’s second-largest prescriber of all Schedule II drugs, which include the highly addictive substances amphetamine salts (Adderall), oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin and Norco), and alprazolam (Xanax).
“The misuse of prescription drugs remains a great cause for concern,” said Timothy J. Landrum, the Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Los Angeles. “In 2008, there were 2.5 million people aged 12 and older who used prescription drugs non-medically for the first time – that is almost 7,000 new users every day. It is unfortunate that any physician would abuse their position of trust in our communities by irresponsibly prescribing these powerful drugs. The DEA is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to ensure physicians such as Dr. Kuemmerle are brought to justice.”
Kuemmerle is a physician specializing in psychiatry who obtained his medical license in 2004. He operates a clinic on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, where Phillips is the office manager. According to the affidavit, Phillips sometimes initially discussed with the “patients” what drugs they wanted, and he often prepared prescriptions for Kuemmerle’s signature.
The investigation into Kuemmerle began in August 2009 when Redondo Beach Police arrested an individual who had offered Adderall for sale on Craigslist. That individual pointed to Kuemmerle as the source of the Adderall, telling the police that Kuemmerle wrote prescriptions on numerous occasions without any medical examination, and that the doctor would write prescriptions for various names during a single visit. According to the affidavit, Kuemmerle later wrote prescriptions for Subutex, which at $15 a tablet was expensive, so the doctor suggested that the individual sell Adderall on Craigslist to help pay for the Subutex, an opiate which is used to treat opiate addictions.
The information from this informant was corroborated by other informants and led to a series of undercover buys by Redondo Beach Police Officers and Special Agents with the DEA, according to the affidavit. The undercover law enforcement officials visited Kuemmerle’s clinic seven times in recent months, and each time they were given prescriptions of Adderall or Xanax in exchange for cash. An undercover police officer received prescriptions for both drugs for $150 during a visit that lasted only eight minutes.
Kuemmerle and Phillips are expected to make their initial court appearances tomorrow in United States District Court in Los Angeles.
A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
Kuemmerle is the latest medical doctor to be charged in a drug “diversion” case where legitimate medicine is diverted to illegal uses. In an unrelated case, a Duarte doctor is scheduled to be sentenced tomorrow afternoon after pleading guilty to distributing huge quantities of painkillers in exchange for cash (see: http://www.justice.gov/usao/cac/pressroom/pr2009/010.html).
Release No. 10-065
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