United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern
District of Michigan Joins “Medicine Abuse Project”
The United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Michigan is one of 94 U.S. Attorney's offices across the country teaming up with The Partnership at Drugfree.org's "Medicine Abuse Project". This project aims to curb the abuse of medicine among teens while encouraging parents and the public to take action. A primary focus of the initiative will be to educate communities about the dangers of abusing prescription and over-the-counter medicines.
According to statistics, drug overdose death among teens 15 to 19 years old are up 91 percent in the past decade. The vast majority of these deaths are because every day, 2,000 teens in this country are using prescription drugs for the first time for the sole purpose of getting high. Most teens who have abused prescription medicines have gotten them from family or friends.
The goal of the "Medicine Abuse Project" is to prevent half a million teens from abusing medicine within five years. As a partner in this initiative, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Michigan is asking that parents/grandparents health care providers, community leaders and educators take a pledge to learn about teen medicine abuse, take steps to safeguard medicines and talk to teens about the issue of drug abuse. The website www.MedicineAbuseProject.org is a great resource for parents and educators looking for information or tips on how to talk with kids about this very important topic.
A critical step in helping prevent teens from experimenting with prescriptions drugs is disposing of expired or unused medicine safely. The Drug Enforcement Administration, as a partner in this initiative, will be holding its fifth National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on September 29, 2012 when citizens can turn in their unwanted and expired medicines in a safe and responsible manner. When the results of the four previous Take-Back Days are combined, the DEA and its partners collected over 1.5 million pounds, or 774 tons, of prescription drugs. For information on collection sites, please visit www.dea.gov and click on the "Got Drugs" link.
One of the new realities of the prescription drug abuse problem is that it is increasingly intertwined with health care fraud. Unscrupulous operators in the health care fraud business are taking advantage of persons who are dependant on prescription drugs. In exchange for allowing their Medicaid or other insurance card to be billed for medical tests that are unnecessary or not performed, "patients" are provided with prescriptions for controlled substances that are not medically necessary. This "payment" of the patient with illegal prescriptions is bad for public health. It also increases the fraud against government insurance programs, since the government is billed for an unnecessary office visit, an unnecessary prescription drug, and the expensive medical tests or procedures. Another problem is the illegal "diversion" of prescription drug controlled substances. "Diversion" refers to the drugs being diverted from legitimate medical purposes, to be used for illicit drug abuse. Typically, diversion happens because of doctors and pharmacists who knowingly prescribe or fill controlled substance prescriptions for non- medical purposes.
The U.S. Attorney's Office is taking aggressive action to prosecute individuals who are illegally distributing prescription drugs. Those prosecutions include:
• Dr. Mikhayl Soliman of Plymouth, Michigan was recently charged in a ten-count indictment with Medicare fraud and with providing prescriptions for OxyContin, Vicodin, and other pharmaceutical narcotics in exchange for cash payments outside the course of usual medical practice and for no legitimate purpose.
• Dr. Gwendolyn Washington pleaded guilty and was sentenced to serve 120 months in federal prison on charges of Medicare fraud and for writing prescriptions for tens of thousands of doses of OxyContin, Opana ER, and Roxicodone, highly addictive pain medications that have a significant "street value" on the illicit market. Washington sometimes wrote prescriptions for individuals who were not her patients, without an examination or determination of medical necessity, and without an appropriate diagnosis or entry in a patient chart. Washington then provided these illegal prescriptions to Virginia Dillard, her niece and co-defendant. Dillard filled the prescriptions at various pharmacies in Highland Park, Warren, and Detroit. After filling the illegal prescriptions, Virginia Dillard delivered the controlled substances to prescription drug dealers in exchange for money.
• Ruth Ann Buck, M.D., of Saginaw, Michigan, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 36 months in federal prison on charges that she unlawfully distributed controlled substances. Dr. Buck unlawfully prescribed and distributed prescription drugs outside the course of professional practice and for no legitimate medical purpose. Dr. Buck prescribed narcotic pain killers, including Vicodin, OxyContin, Xanax, morphine, methadone, and Dilaudid without any significant medical examination, despite being informed that patients were misusing the drugs, and far in excess of the legitimate medical needs of many of the patients.
• Sohrab Shafinia, a former Michigan physician, and Richard Riozzi, a pharmacist, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison terms for unlawfully prescribing and filling hundreds of prescriptions for the painkiller Oxycontin in exchange for cash. The two were responsible for putting thousands of 80 mg into illegal distribution.
• Salahuddin Ahmad, a licensed medical doctor, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 36 months in prison for selling Oxycontin pills for redistribution. Ahmad, outside his legitimate practice of medicine, planned to sell over 2,400 Oxycontin tablets before he was arrested by DEA agents.
"At the U.S. Attorney's Office, we are prosecuting doctors, pharmacists and other health care providers who are contributing to the problem of prescription drug addiction through illegal activities," McQuade said. "We also want to educate parents about this issue and ask them to do their part by talking to their kids about the dangers of prescription drug abuse and properly disposing of unused medicine."
Prescription drug abuse is the fastest- growing drug problem in the United States. The public health problems caused by prescription drug abuse are well documented. It is imperative that we do all we can to protect our children from falling prey to this epidemic. Federal law enforcement in the Eastern District of Michigan has a strong commitment to the investigation and prosecution of any illegal distribution or diversion of prescription drug controlled substances. We are asking the public to do its part in stemming the problem. Please join us is making the pledge to talk with children about prescription drug abuse. Go to www.drugfree.org for helpful tools and more information.