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California doctor accused of selling prescriptions

On Dec. 11, a physician was arraigned in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco on drug charges and charges of conspiracy on suspicion of writing phony prescriptions for potent painkillers. Federal drug agents alleged the doctor wrote prescriptions for oxycodone and hydrocodone in exchange for cash.

Prosecutors claim that the recipients of these prescriptions were homeless individuals without symptoms that justified the use of these pills. After filling the prescriptions, the recipients would give them to a co-conspirator, federal prosecutors say. The doctor pleaded not guilty on both counts. If convicted, he stands to be sentenced to a fine of one million dollars and a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

The number of prescriptions written is what caught the attention of the Drug Enforcement Agency initially. The indicted physician has two offices and serves a very large client base, according to his defense attorney. According to court documents, however, the physician told federal investigators he charged between $80 and $150 for each fraudulent prescription he wrote and had earned approximately $400,000 in the six or seven years he'd been writing them.

In the specific undercover operation that led to the criminal indictments, a federal agent reportedly paid the physician $1,000 for 12 prescriptions. The federal agents said that the doctor asked him to provide medical records and MRIs to justify writing the prescriptions.

The prosecution in this case may find it difficult to prove that the prescriptions were not for medical reasons. The doctor had many patients. Reviewing the medical records for every prescription he wrote may be impossible. A defense lawyer may also try to cast doubt on the undercover agent's testimony.

Source: SF Gate, "S.F. doctor charged in homeless drug ring", Vivian Ho, December 16, 2013

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