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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Ohio

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Youngstown physician indicted for operating a “pill mill” that distributed controlled substances, including opioids, and causing the deaths of two patients

Martin Escobar, age 57, of Youngstown, Ohio, was indicted by a federal grand jury in a 145-count indictment charging the unlawful distribution and dispensation of controlled substances, causing the deaths of two patients, maintaining a drug-involved premises, health care fraud, and unlawfully distributing and dispensing a controlled substance to a person under the age of 21.   

The indictment alleges that between March 2015 and May 2019, Escobar prescribed opioids and other controlled substances out of his Lake Milton medical office, including opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, often in combination with benzodiazepines and stimulants, all outside the usual course of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose.

The indictment further alleges that to support his illegal prescribing, Escobar engaged in the following conduct, among other things: used false diagnoses; falsified patient pain intensity scales in medical charts; increased dosages of controlled substances and prescribed them for prolonged periods without evidence of efficacy; failed to adequately investigate patients’ pain complaints; failed to consider treatment options other than controlled substances; and falsely claimed in patient charts to have performed extensive physical examinations of patients.  The indictment also alleges that Escobar ignored the results of patients’ urine drug screen tests, many of which were performed in Escobar’s medical office and that Escobar billed the government for.  The indictment further alleges that these screens demonstrated the absence of prescribed controlled substances and the presence of non-prescribed controlled substances, suggesting the patients were abusing prescribed and non-prescribed controlled substances, and selling prescribed controlled substances that Escobar prescribed to them on the illegal secondary street market. 

In addition, the indictment alleges that Escobar committed health care fraud by billing and causing the government to be billed for medically unnecessary controlled substances and urine drug screen tests.      

The indictment further alleges that Escobar caused the deaths of two of his patients in 2015 and 2016 by unlawfully distributing and dispensing controlled substances to them that led to their deaths. 

“We are relying on our community’s healthcare professionals to help devise strategies to address the opioid crisis,” said U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman. “The vast majority of doctors take their oath to do no harm seriously and have embraced practices that lead to responsible prescribing and reduce diversion, abuse, and addiction.  Where there may be departures from those professional obligations, as alleged with respect to this defendant, we stand ready to use every law enforcement tool, including criminal charges, to address that harm.”

“Today's indictment is another example of DEA's determination to combat the troubling prescription drug abuse problem in this country,” said Drug Enforcement Administration Detroit Field Division Special Agent in Charge Keith Martin.  “Dr. Escobar allegedly abused his position of trust and jeopardized the lives of many individuals by illegally prescribing controlled substances. No matter if it’s in a doctor’s office, board room or street corner, DEA and our law enforcement partners will continue to investigate and bring to justice those who are responsible for the illegal distribution of prescription medicines.”

“All physicians are expected to uphold specific ethical standards to do no harm, but Dr. Escobar, who took the Hippocratic oath to become a physician, is accused of falsifying medical records, prescribing unnecessary controlled substances subsequently causing two deaths, among other charges,” stated FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric Smith.   “Patients should be able to trust and rely on their chosen physician, not become addicts or die as a result of their physician's care.  The FBI will continue to work with our partners to root out and hold accountable physicians that are violating the law and endangering their patients.”

“Prescribing controlled substances outside the usual course of professional practice and with no legitimate medical purpose puts a patient’s health and safety at risk,” said Lamont Pugh III, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Inspector General – Chicago Region. “Prescribing patterns such as those alleged in this indictment are serious in nature and only exacerbate the opioid crisis. The OIG will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to vigorously investigate allegations of this nature.”

“Every time a pill mill grinds to a halt, Ohio moves closer to ending this crisis,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said. “Ohio needs Medicaid fraud teams like these to hold these operations accountable.” 

An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt.  A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

If convicted, the defendant’s sentence will be determined by the Court after review of factors unique to this case, including the defendant’s prior criminal record, if any, the defendant’s role in the offense and the characteristics of the violation.  In all cases, the sentence will not exceed the statutory maximum and in most cases it will be less than the maximum.

The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy.  It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brendan D. O’Shea, Michael L. Collyer, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan L. Metzler of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.     

If you believe that you may have relevant information about Martin Escobar, you are asked to contact law enforcement at (216) 583-5314.

 

Topic(s): 
Prescription Drugs
Contact: 
Bridget M. Brennan (216) 22-3651 bridget.brennan@usdoj.gov
Updated March 5, 2020