Bozeman doctor admits unlawful drug dispensing at weight loss clinics
BILLINGS – A Bozeman doctor today admitted charges that he illegally dispensed appetite suppressant drugs at two weight loss clinics in Bozeman and Billings, U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said.
Dr. Ronald M. Buss, 71, pleaded guilty to an information charging him with two counts of unlawful dispensing and distribution of controlled substances by registrant, a misdemeanor. Buss faces a maximum one year in prison, a $100,000 fine and one year of supervised release on each count.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Cavan presided. Buss was released pending further proceedings. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
Court documents filed by the prosecution said that in 2009, Buss became the medical director for Go Figure, a weight loss clinic in Bozeman, and a year later became the director for Go Figure in Billings. Buss is registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration and is authorized to dispense controlled substances. His registration number has been used at the two Go Figure clinics for controlled substance prescriptions.
Go Figure has prescribed three types of weight loss drugs: Phendimetrazine and Benzphetamine, both Schedule III controlled substances, and Phentermine, a Schedule IV controlled substance. These drugs are amphetamine-based and intended for short-term use. The drugs also are indicated only for severely overweight or obese individuals and may be contraindicated for people with some health conditions.
In August 2016, the Billings DEA received information from a pharmacist that Go Figure was illegally dispensing these three controlled appetite suppressants from its clinic. In July 2016, Buss began pre-signing prescriptions for Go Figure staff to complete. Go Figure had no medically trained staff other than Buss. An employee at the Billings clinic told investigators Buss pre-signed prescriptions for new and current clients, and that staff would choose one of the three drugs, its strength, directions for use and complete the written prescription. Patients paid $50 per week to be weighed, have their blood pressure taken and receive a prescription for one week's worth of the selected drug.
At the Bozeman clinic, an employee told law enforcement that she was a "consultant," met with patients and prescribed controlled substances on blank, pre-signed prescriptions from Buss. Staff repeatedly questioned the practice but were continually assured Go Figure had special permission to do so and that it was legal. In addition, the employee said that from 2009 to 2016, the Bozeman clinic was dispensing the appetite suppressants directly from the clinic without issuing written prescriptions.
Clinic employees further said Buss did not meet many of the patients for months or years after they began taking the drugs. In some instances, Buss never saw the patients at all. Patients confirmed to DEA investigators that they rarely, if ever, met with Buss.
When interviewed, Buss admitted to investigators to pre-signing blank prescriptions and not seeing patients until after they started taking the drugs. Buss claimed that was only way to run the practice effectively.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Karla Painter is prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration.