Former Parkersburg Physician Pleads Guilty for His Role in Hope Clinic Conspiracy
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A former Parkersburg physician pled guilty to a drug conspiracy, announced United States Attorney Mike Stuart. Paul W. Burke, 68, pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute controlled substances not for legitimate medical purposes in the usual course of professional medical practice and beyond the bounds of medical practice.
Burke worked at the Charleston HOPE Clinic, a chronic pain clinic, from April 2014 through September 2014. Burke admitted that the owner of the HOPE Clinic recruited him to work there despite Burke being primarily an emergency room doctor and surgeon with little experience in dealing with chronic pain patients and no training in prescribing schedule II narcotics for the treatment of chronic pain. The owner explained to Burke that narcotics auditors employed by PPPFD who were “former DEA Agents,” would screen customers for abuse, addiction, and diversion prior to the customer ever seeing him. In approximately April 2014, Burke began working at the Charleston HOPE Clinic. Burke understood at the time he was contracted that the purpose of HOPE Clinic was to provide pain customers with oral opiate pain medicine. As the practice manager and owner both knew, however, Burke had no background or specialized training in chronic pain management.
Burk admitted that when he started working at the HOPE Clinic, it became apparent that some of the customers were not getting properly evaluated prior to the doctors writing them prescriptions for opioids, that the customers’ files were poorly kept and had little relevant medical information in them. Burk admitted that many of the patients came to the HOPE Clinic from out of state, and most customers paid in cash. He also admitted that he often received a bonus on top of his hourly pay that was clearly based on the number of paying customers at the Clinic. Despite all of these red flags, Burke admitted that he continued to work at the HOPE Clinic and continued to write customers prescriptions for Schedule II narcotics. For example, Burke admitted that he and other doctors at HOPE Clinic should not have prescribed Schedule II opioid medications to customer S.W. Doctors at the HOPE Clinic, including Burke, prescribed oxycodone to S.W., and Burke admitted those prescriptions were not for a legitimate medical reason in the usual course of professional practice and were beyond the bounds of medical practice. Between December 2012 and September 2014, eight different doctors at the HOPE Clinic wrote her prescriptions for a total of 720 oxycodone 10 mg pills and 2,670 oxycodone 15 mg pills. During that less than two-year period, S.W. took eight drug tests and failed every single one. Burke admitted to only recognizing that S.W. failed three drug tests. Between December 2012 and September 2014, no one at the HOPE Clinic discussed drug addiction, drug abuse, drug treatment or drug diversion with S.W. On August 25, 2014, despite the clear evidence of abuse and diversion, Burke admitted to writing S.W. a prescription for 150 oxycodone 15 mg and 60 Percocet 10 mg.
“As I’ve said many times, medical professionals who prey on individuals struggling with substance use disorder to line their own pockets will be held accountable,” said United States Attorney Mike Stuart. “A drug dealer in a lab coat is still just a drug dealer. We will work with our law enforcement partners to remove them from our communities to protect West Virginia families.”
“Patients struggling with opioid addiction are someone’s parents, children, friends or loved ones, and it’s our responsibility to protect them from bad actors who seek to profit from their struggle” said Maureen R. Dixon, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General-Philadelphia Regional Office (HHS-OIG). “Today’s conviction shows we are holding bad actors accountable and working to prevent further harm to patients.”
“Distributing addictive opioids for illegitimate purposes poses a serious threat to patients and public health and will not be tolerated,” said Mark S. McCormack, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Office of Criminal Investigations, Metro Washington Field Office. “We will continue to pursue and bring to justice unscrupulous actors who unlawfully distribute these dangerous drugs to the American public.”
Burke faces up to five years in prison when sentenced on January 30, 2020.
The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG), the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations, the Food and Drug Administration - Office of Criminal Investigations, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the West Virginia State Police, the Kentucky State Police, the Beckley Police Department, the Virginia State Police, the Charleston Police Department, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. United States District Judge Irene C. Berger presided over the hearing. Assistant United States Attorneys Monica D. Coleman and Steven I. Loew are handling the prosecution.