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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Pennsylvania

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Greensburg Doctor Sentenced to Nearly Five Years in Prison for Accepting Kickbacks in Exchange for Prescribing Fentanyl

PITTSBURGH – A resident of Westmoreland County, PA, was sentenced in federal court following his convictions for conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Statute, health care fraud, and conspiracy to distribute Schedule IV controlled substances, United States Attorney Cindy K. Chung announced today.

United States District Judge William S. Stickman sentenced Thomas Whitten, age 71, of Greensburg, PA, to 57 months of imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release.

Whitten pled guilty on July 22, 2021. During the change of plea hearing, Whitten admitted that, from May 2013 to November 2015, he conspired to receive kickbacks from pharmaceutical company Insys Therapeutics in exchange for prescribing Subsys, a powerful painkiller approximately 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. The FDA approved Subsys only for the management of breakthrough pain in cancer patients. Whitten prescribed Subsys to patients for whom the drug was not medically indicated and received more than $100,000 as well as other benefits from Insys in exchange for writing those prescriptions. Prescriptions for Subsys typically cost thousands of dollars each month, and Medicare and Medicaid, as well as commercial insurers, including Highmark, paid millions of dollars to cover illegitimate Subsys prescriptions written by Whitten.

In addition, from November 2017 through December 12, 2019, Whitten conspired to unlawfully distribute Schedule IV controlled substances, phentermine hydrochloride and diethylpropion, to patients at five weight loss clinics. Based on an agreement between Whitten and the owner of those clinics, Schedule IV controlled substances were dispensed to patients under Whitten’s DEA registration numbers, including to new patients and patients who had not been seen at the clinics for years, without any physical examination by Whitten or another appropriately trained licensed medical professional.

As part of his sentence, Whitten must pay restitution totaling over $8 million to the victim insurers, and forfeit both his medical license and DEA registration.

United States Attorney Cindy K. Chung and Assistant United States Attorney Karen Gal-Or prosecuted this case on behalf of the government.

The investigation leading to the filing of charges in this case was conducted by the Western Pennsylvania Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit (OFADU). The Western Pennsylvania OFADU, led by federal prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, combines the expertise and resources of federal and state law enforcement to address the role played by unethical medical professionals in the opioid epidemic.

The agencies which comprise the Western Pennsylvania OFADU include: Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General, Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations, Pennsylvania Office of Attorney
General - Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General – Bureau of Narcotic Investigations, United States Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Attorney’s Office – Criminal Division, Civil Division and Asset Forfeiture Unit, Department of Veterans Affairs-Office of Inspector General, Food and Drug Administration-Office of Criminal Investigations, U.S. Office of Personnel Management – Office of Inspector General and the Pennsylvania Bureau of Licensing.
 

Topic(s): 
Prescription Drugs
Health Care Fraud
Updated December 7, 2021