How Authorities Are Dismantling Pennsylvania Pain Clinics Prescribing Excessive Amounts of Opioid Pain Pills

Some doctors, medical professionals, and their co-conspirators intentionally conspired to dispense enormous quantities of oxycodone pills. These pain management schemes involve medically unnecessary prescription drugs.

Many of these investigations stem from business operations of what was, in essence, a ‘pill mill’ rather than a medical practice focused on pain management.

Opioids are a type of drug that is highly addictive and can be very harmful, even deadly when misused. People who get opioids from a pill mill are more likely to misuse them because they don’t have to go through the proper channels to get the drugs. This means that more people are at risk of developing an addiction to opioids, and more people are likely to overdose on these drugs.

Chester County Doctor Sentenced for Operating Pill Mill Out of Main Line Pain Clinic (U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, January 2023)

ST. DAVIDS, PENNSYLVANIA. Dr. Yutong Zhang, 64, of Berwyn, PA, was sentenced to two years in prison and three years of supervised release for operating a pain management medical practice as a “pill mill.”

In February 2022, the defendant pleaded guilty to four counts of distributing oxycodone-containing medications outside of the usual course of professional practice and for no legitimate medical purpose. From approximately 2016 through 2020, Dr. Zhang sold medically unnecessary prescriptions for oxycodone and other controlled substances to about 120 so-called patients, who were cash-paying customers. Dr. Zhang frequently supplied these prescriptions after conducting only a cursory physical examination or without any examination and did not take steps, such as ordering diagnostic testing, designed to discern the root cause of the pain reportedly suffered by patients.

In a separate but related civil settlement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Dr. Zhang agreed to resolve his civil penalty liability under the Controlled Substances Act.  Zhang agreed to pay $715,000 in civil penalties for his controlled substance prescribing. The civil settlement also permanently prevents Zhang from ever prescribing controlled substances.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to fighting the opioid epidemic on all fronts, including prosecuting drug dealers who happen to have a medical degree,” said U.S. Attorney Romero. “As a physician, Yutong Zang was certainly aware of the inherently dangerous nature of the drugs he was selling, but he chose to profit from the sales of prescriptions instead of providing genuine medical treatment. His actions kept addicted customers returning to his office, contributing to the opioid crisis on the streets of Philadelphia.”

“Today we see yet another local physician going to prison for pushing powerful pills to addicts,” said Jacqueline Maguire, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “We see a waste of all that education and experience, and we see a monstrous ethical lapse. Zhang and other doctors who deal oxycodone to anyone who can pay for it are directly fueling the opioid crisis and its mounting human toll here. The FBI is committed to holding accountable medical professionals who choose to throw away their oath and get involved in this dangerous drug diversion.”  

“We are pleased to shut down this illegal operation within our community,” said Radnor Township Police Superintendent Chris Flanagan. “These ‘pill mills’ affect everyone involved: the user, their friends, and their families. Over time, they truly ruin lives.”

Montgomery County “Goody Bag” Pill Mill Doctor Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison

PHILADELPHIA. Dr. Andrew Berkowitz, 62, of Huntington Valley, PA, was sentenced to 20 years in prison, five years supervised release, and was ordered to pay a $40,000 fine and almost $4 million in restitution for running a prescription “pill mill” from his medical practice which he operated in Philadelphia under the name ‘A+ Pain Management.’ Judge Diamond also ordered the defendant to forfeit fraud proceeds of approximately $3.4 million and four real estate properties.

In January 2020, Dr. Berkowitz pleaded guilty to 19 counts of healthcare fraud and 23 counts of distributing oxycodone outside the course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose, charges for which he was indicted in June 2019. The defendant fraudulently billed insurers for medically unnecessary physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, and prescription drugs and for treatments not provided at all. 

“Doctors are supposed to treat illness, not feed it,” said Jacqueline Maguire, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “Andrew Berkowitz prescribed patients unnecessary pills and handed out opioids to addicts. He then made millions by billing Medicare and other insurance programs for these drugs and for treatments that never happened. Healthcare fraud is costly on many levels, whether it’s the unlawful diversion of Medicare funds, medication, or both. That’s why these cases are a priority for the FBI and our partners on the Health Care Fraud Task Force.”

Lancaster Doctor Charged with Unlawful Prescribing (Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, July 2021)

Dr. Mathews failed to prescribe controlled substances in accordance with accepted treatment principles. He also failed to keep accurate medical records supporting the high volume of controlled substances that he prescribed. During patient appointments, he failed to perform routine check-ups and instead prescribed addictive medications without consideration for the well-being of his patients.

Former patients told investigators that during their appointments, Dr. Mathews would coach them to say they had medical diagnoses that were not accurate in order to justify their controlled substance usage. They characterized Dr. Mathews’ office to investigators as a “pill mill.” Patients also reported that Dr. Mathews would ask for routine urine samples but would not supervise patients while doing so and would often leave those samples in the office unattended. Dr. Mathews also reportedly left examination room doors open when conducting examinations, violating confidentiality agreements and exposing routine appointments to other patients and visitors in the office.

A medical expert who reviewed Mathew’s patient files determined that Dr. Mathews failed to act within the scope of the patient relationship; falsified diagnoses to help patients secure high dose, high quantity, addictive medications; and failed to act in accordance with any of the treatment principles accepted by medical professionals.

Dr. Mathews was charged with 14 counts of Unlawful Prescription of Controlled Substances. 

“Dr. Mathews was trusted to thoughtfully write prescriptions in his patients’ best interests. Instead, he used his access to prescribe addictive medications that devastated many lives and families in Lancaster County,” said Attorney General Shapiro. “My office will continue to hold individuals accountable who recklessly put the lives of others at risk.”

“This case is an important reminder that law enforcement leaves no stone unturned when it comes to fighting the opioid epidemic – anyone who is responsible for the crimes contributable to this epidemic will be held accountable,” said Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams.

If you are aware of controlled substance violations in your community, you can submit your anonymous tip through the DEA online Tip Line

North Philadelphia “Pill Mill” Doctor Sentenced to Five Years in Prison for Illegal Opioid Distribution (U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, March 2021)

NORTH PHILADELPHIA. Dr. Myron Rodos, 80, of Ambler, PA, was sentenced to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay a fine of $300,000 for distributing controlled substances, namely opioids, outside the course of professional conduct and not for a legitimate medical purpose.

Dr. Rodos operated a medical practice in North Philadelphia as a prescription “pill mill” where he prescribed dangerous and addictive controlled substances to people with an addiction for cash. The defendant pleaded guilty in November 2019 to four counts of distribution of Schedule II controlled substances and stipulated that he illegally distributed an additional 6,130 oxycodone (30 mg) pills and 3,670 methadone (10 mg) pills to patients in exchange for sex and money.

“It’s hard to understand how a longtime physician, trained to help and to heal people, could be this depraved,” said Michael J. Driscoll, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “Dr. Rodos used his patients’ addictions against them, readily doling out powerful opioids in exchange for money or sex acts. The FBI and our partners are doggedly working to put drug-dealing doctors like him out of business as we battle our country’s opioid epidemic.”

Delaware County Doctor Pleads Guilty to Unlawfully Distributing Oxycodone to Patients in “Pill Mill” Case (U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, January 2020)

Dr. Timothy Shawl, 60, of Garnet Valley, PA, entered a plea of guilty on five counts of unlawful distribution of controlled substances.

The defendant was charged by Indictment as part of a coordinated healthcare fraud enforcement action across seven federal districts, involving more than $800 million in loss and more than 3.25 million opioid pills distributed in “pill mill” clinics. During his guilty plea today, Dr. Shawl admitted that he wrote oxycodone prescriptions that were not for a legitimate medical purpose and which were issued without Shawl treating, examining, or even seeing the patients who received the prescriptions. Dr. Shawl further admitted that concerning one patient, he had not conducted a physical examination on the patient for at least five years despite regularly prescribing controlled substances to the patient. This patient died on Jan. 7, 2019, just three days after Dr. Shawl last prescribed oxycodone for her, and the cause of death was drug intoxication.

“Today’s guilty plea from Dr. Shawl is the tangible result of the Healthcare Fraud Strike Force delivering on its mission to stop fraud, waste, and abuse within our federal health care programs and to stem the tide of illegal opioid distribution,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Williams. “Our Strike Force acts as a force multiplier, bringing together health care fraud prosecutors, civil enforcement attorneys, data analysts, and law enforcement agencies to do this important work. Today’s guilty plea should serve as a warning to any medical professional engaged in this type of illegal behavior.”  

Fourteen Individuals Charged for Operating “Pill Mills” and Illegally Prescribing Drugs to Hundreds of Patients in Multiple Locations in the Philadelphia Area (U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, February 2019)

PHILADELPHIA, PA – United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced two indictments charging 14 people with a multitude of crimes, including conspiracy to dispense and distribute controlled substances outside the course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose; distribution of oxycodone; health care fraud; and maintaining drug-involved premises. 

Criminal Indictment No. 18-CR-591: Drs. Murray Soss and Frederick Reichle.  This indictment charges Dr. Murray Soss, 78, of Philadelphia, PA, and Dr. Frederick Reichle, 83, of Warrington, PA, with conspiracy to distribute and dispense oxycodone outside the usual course of practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose.  Dr. Soss was also charged with seven counts of distributing oxycodone and seven counts of healthcare fraud.

As alleged in the indictment, Dr. Soss hired Dr. Reichle to write oxycodone prescriptions for Soss’s pain management patients after Soss’s Pennsylvania medical license was suspended in April 2017.  Soss and Reichle charged the patients a fee to obtain oxycodone prescriptions, written by Dr. Reichle, that were not medically necessary.  At times, Dr. Soss allegedly collected $2,500 in exchange for accepting a new patient for the sole purpose of that patient obtaining Schedule II narcotics. 

Advanced Urgent Care was owned and operated by Dr. Mehdi Nikparvar-Fard.  The indictment alleges that in exchange for an $80 to $140 office fee, members of the public were offered “pain management” by AUC doctors and physician’s assistants.  Pain management typically involves obtaining a prescription for opioid painkillers.  The superseding indictment further alleges that AUC medical providers unlawfully prescribed controlled substances, such as opioid painkillers, daily from January 2014 through August 2017 and routinely ignored warning signs that patients were abusing and/or selling their prescription painkillers.  The warning signs included urine drug screens that were positive for illicit drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, urine drug screens that were positive for Suboxone (a drug used to treat opiate addiction), and urine drug screens that were negative for all drugs, suggesting the patients may have been selling their prescription pills.  In the face of these test results, AUC medical providers nonetheless prescribed enormous quantities of opioid painkillers.  According to the indictment, at least 3,678 illegal prescriptions were issued by AUC’s doctors and physician’s assistants.

“We’re seeing it over and over again: medical professionals deciding to cash in on our area’s opioid crisis,” said Michael T. Harpster, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “It seems ‘first, do no harm’ is a principle fast forgotten when money starts changing hands.  These doctors are just doling out piles of pills to anyone willing to pay for them.  It’s despicable, it’s criminal, and the FBI and our law enforcement partners will never stop working to put pill mills and the people who run them out of business.”

“The defendants arrested in this case are accused of setting up and operating a scheme in which the defendants sold opioid prescriptions to individuals without any legitimate medical need or purpose in exchange for cash.  The defendants issued 3,678 prescriptions, which amount to hundreds of thousands of pills being used by addicted individuals,” said Jonathan A. Wilson, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Philadelphia Field Division.  “When the DEA determines that a doctor is prescribing controlled substance medications without a legitimate medical purpose, the DEA will refer the investigation to the US Attorney’s Office for prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.”

The 13 defendants charged in this indictment are Dr. Mehdi Nikparvar-Fard, 49, of Penn Valley, PA; Dr. Vincent Thompson, 70, of Elkins Park, PA; Dr. Loretta Brown, 65, of Landsowne, PA; Dr. Avrom Brown, 70, of Elkins Park, PA; Dr. Frederick Reichle, 83, of Warrington, PA; Dr. Marcus Rey Williams, 70, of Coatesville, PA; Dr. William Demedio, 58, of Springfield, PA; Dr. Neil Cutler, 77, of Warminster, PA; Physician’s Assistant Mitchell White, 33, of Philadelphia, PA; Physician’s Assistant Jason Dillinger, 40, of West Chester, PA; Physician’s Assistant Debra Cortez, 56, of Bristol, PA; Physician’s Assistant Samantha Hollis, 42, of Wilmington, DE, and Office Manager Joanne Rivera, 35, of Pennsauken, NJ.  Each defendant is charged with maintaining a drug-involved premises, and five defendants (Nikparvar-Fard, Rivera, Dillinger, Thompson, and White) are charged with conspiring to unlawfully distribute controlled substances.

West Philadelphia Pharmacy Employee Convicted in Illegal Oxy Pill Mill Scheme

Anmol Singh Kamra, 27, of Upper Darby, PA, was convicted of conspiracy to distribute oxycodone outside the usual course of professional practice and with no legitimate medical purpose. 

Kamra, a pharmacy technician at Campus Pharmacy in West Philadelphia, conspired with George Fisher, a physician, and Frank Brown, both charged separately, to illegally distribute thousands of oxycodone pills to people suffering from addiction.  From about December 2012 through about March 2016, Kamra, Fisher, and Brown orchestrated and executed a scheme to turn the pharmacy into a “pill mill” in which Kamra knowingly filled fake oxycodone prescriptions written by Dr. Fisher in sham “patient” names and gave the oxycodone pills to Brown to sell in street-level drug deals. 

At times, Kamra would sell drugs without a prescription and then request that Dr. Fisher backdate a fake prescription in an attempt to cover the tracks.  At trial, Kamra testified that this backdating of prescriptions was a mere “courtesy” on behalf of the doctor so patients could receive their prescriptions in a timely manner, but undercover video evidence showed otherwise.  This small pharmacy in West Philadelphia sold so many opioids that some were hidden under the sink for fear that their distributor would notice the over-abundance and cut them off for exceeding the allowable limit.

“Kamra was operating nothing more than a corrupt pill mill,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “The misuse of opioids is killing our citizens, and this defendant significantly contributed to our region’s crippling opioid epidemic.  We have to do everything possible to stop the illegal distribution of these deadly drugs, especially by professionals entrusted to prescribe and monitor their use.”

“Kamra diverted thousands of oxycodone pills to the street, taking advantage of those struggling with addiction amid our area’s devastating opioid crisis,” said Michael T. Harpster, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “Yet another medical professional looking to profit from someone else’s misery. The FBI will never stop working to put pill mills out of business and the people who run them behind bars.”

Mt. Carmel Doctor Indicted For Operating A “Pill Mill” And Causing The Death Of Five Patients (U.S. Attorney’s Office, Middle District of Pennsylvania, December 2017)

Dr. Raymond Kraynak, age 60, of Mt. Carmel, Pennsylvania, was indicted by a federal grand jury in a 19-count indictment charging the unlawful distribution and dispensing of controlled substances, causing the death of five patients by the unlawful distribution and dispensing of controlled substances, and maintaining two drug-involved premises in Mt. Carmel and Shamokin, Pennsylvania. 

The indictment alleges that Dr. Kraynak, who operated two offices in Mt. Carmel and Shamokin, Pennsylvania, known as Keystone Family Medicine Associates, prescribed approximately 2.7 million units of oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxycontin, and fentanyl to approximately 2,838 patients between January 2016 through July 31, 2017.  During that period, he was the top prescriber of those drugs in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The indictment further alleges that on multiple occasions between 2005 and 2016, Dr. Kraynak prescribed these opioids to multiple patients outside of the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose, including prescribing the opioids without conducting a proper medical examination, inadequately verifying the patient’s medical complaint, and failing to assess the risk of abuse by individual patients.

The indictment further alleges that Dr. Kraynak caused the death of five of his patients between 2013 and 2015 by unlawfully distributing and dispensing controlled substances to them, which ultimately led to their death. Dr. Kraynak was charged with two additional counts of maintaining drug-involved premises at his offices located in Mt. Carmel and Shamokin, Pennsylvania. The government sought the forfeiture of those two offices, his Pennsylvania medical license, and $500,000.

“These serious charges are the culmination of a substantial commitment of Federal, State, and Local law enforcement resources specifically directed at one of the root causes of our current epidemic of heroin and opioid abuse: unlawful over-prescription of highly addictive and dangerous drugs,” said United States Attorney Freed. 

“The sheer number of pills prescribed in this case is staggering.  Death or serious injury was the inevitable result of this defendant’s conduct.  I am particularly thankful to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Pennsylvania State Police, the Mt. Carmel Borough Police, and the Schuylkill County Drug Task Force for their hard work in this case.”

“The allegations against Dr. Kraynak in this indictment are deeply disturbing, especially given that he is accused of causing the death of five of his patients through the unlawful distribution of controlled substances such as oxycodone and hydrocodone,” said Gary Tuggle, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Philadelphia Field Division. 

Shutting Down a Fraudulent Prescription Pill Mill

HARRISBURG – Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced charges against 10 people who used home computers to write fake prescriptions and obtain more than 3,500 Oxycodone pills and other drugs across 17 Pennsylvania counties.

The prescription pill mill was run by Tracie Peurifoy, 37, of the 1300 block of Devereaux Street, Philadelphia. She created fake prescriptions on her home computer using the names of physicians from across Pennsylvania – none of whom were involved in the scheme. Peurifoy is charged with violating the Controlled Substance Act, conspiracy, and corrupt organizations.

“We’re prosecuting dealers who are fueling this crisis, whether it’s heroin on street corners or illegal pills from a doctor’s pad,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “Prescription drug abuse is fueling the opioid crisis in Pennsylvania, and my office is focused on stopping the illegal diversion of these powerful drugs.”

The pill mill case began last June when a Luzerne County doctor noticed a prescription that he did not write had been filled using his name. He reported the issue to the Office of Attorney General. Investigators reviewed surveillance video to determine that Russel Morris, 32, of Granite Road, Melrose Park, had fraudulently filled the prescription. Agents also learned that Morris had been driving a rental car at the time — leased by Peurifoy.

Attorney General Shapiro praised this physician and all doctors who supported the investigation. “Because of these doctors’ vigilance, our agents and local police were able to identify and break up this prescription pill mill,” Shapiro said. “We’re asking pharmacists and medical professionals across our Commonwealth: If you see something wrong, say something. We’ll act on your information.”

Working with Fairview Township police, Central Berks Regional Police, Southern York Regional Police, and North Cornwall police, Attorney General investigators learned that Peurifoy and her conspirators used the names of actual Pennsylvania doctors to falsify prescriptions. The doctors were not involved.

Peurifoy falsified the prescriptions and gave them to her conspirators to fill, along with rental cars leased in her name and instructions on which pharmacies to use. The conspirators traveled to 17 different counties to fill the fraudulent prescriptions. Those counties were York, Luzerene, Lackawanna, Allegheny, Delaware, Montgomery, Lebanon, Philadelphia, Pike, Wayne, Centre, Cambria, Somerset, Berks, Cumberland, Northampton, and Dauphin Counties.

During the nine months of its operation, the ring obtained at least 3,500 pills of Oxycodone, Alprazolam, and Flexeril. Investigators estimate these pills were worth approximately $75,000. The prescription drugs were given to Peurifoy by her conspirators in exchange for a $150 payment per filled prescription. In addition to Peurifoy and Morris, eight others were charged with various felony drug offenses:

  • Latoya Peurifoy, 41, of Philadelphia
  • Christian Eleby-Lackey, 30, of Philadelphia
  • Shane Harris, 24, of Elkins Park
  • Dashonna Hoskins, 22, of Philadelphia
  • Troy Thomas, 29, Philadelphia
  • Sharee Hall, 33, of Chester
  • Marquan Toure El, 24, of Philadelphia
  • Lueveater Smith, 37, of Philadelphia

Former Philadelphia Doctor Sentenced To 30 Years For Running Pill Mill And Distributing Oxycodone Resulting In Patient Death (Federal Bureau of Investigation)

William J. O’Brien III, a former doctor of osteopathic medicine, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for illegal distribution of controlled substances, resulting in death and additional charges arising from Dr. O’Brien’s operation of a pill mill.

The evidence at trial showed that Dr. O’Brien worked together with the Pagans Motorcycle Club and their associates to operate a “pill mill” out of O’Brien’s medical offices. Dr. O’Brien wrote fraudulent prescriptions for oxycodone and other drugs, while the Pagans and their associates recruited “pseudo-patients” to buy the fraudulent prescriptions. O’Brien charged $250 cash for the first appointment to obtain prescriptions for controlled substances and $200 cash for each subsequent visit.

Oxycodone (30 mg) was in high demand by drug dealers who could sell each pill on the street for $25 to $30. Dr. O’Brien sold prescriptions for these dangerous and addictive drugs to hundreds of “pseudo-patients.” After filling the prescriptions, the Pagans and their associates resold the pills on the street. The trial evidence showed that from March 2012 to January 2015, more than 700,000 pills containing oxycodone and other Schedule II controlled substances were distributed by O’Brien in furtherance of the conspiracy. Dr. O’Brien generated for himself an estimated $2 million in cash proceeds from the drug trafficking conspiracy.

A grand jury in Philadelphia charged Dr. O’Brien and nine co-defendants in a 139-count Second Superseding Indictment with conspiring to distribute controlled substances and other crimes. Dr. O’Brien was also charged with 121 separate counts of distribution of controlled substances and distribution resulting in death. In addition to Dr. O’Brien, the defendants charged in the indictment included members and associates of the Pagans Motorcycle Club, an outlaw gang known for violence and drug dealing. Dr. O’Brien and his paramour, Elizabeth Hibbs, were charged with conspiracy to engage in money laundering, conspiracy to commit bankruptcy fraud, and making false statements under oath in bankruptcy proceedings. 

Doctor Sentenced For Running Pill Mill And Contributing To A Death

WILLOW GROVE, PENNSYLVANIA. Dr. Norman Werther, 73, of Ft. Washington, PA, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for distribution of a controlled substance, resulting in death and more than 300 counts stemming from his pill mill operation.  A federal jury convicted Werther on 184 counts of illegally distributing oxycodone, 116 counts of money laundering, six counts of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, and one count of maintaining a drug-involved premises.  

Dr. Werther was part of a multi-million dollar drug conspiracy involving illegal prescriptions, phony patients, and multiple drug trafficking organizations.  At the time, Dr. Werther was a Montgomery County physician running a physical therapy and rehabilitation practice in Willow Grove.  He conspired with six separate groups of drug dealers.  Dr. Werther was involved in the drug conspiracy between February 2009 and August 2011.  The operation resulted in the illegal distribution of more than 700,000 pills containing oxycodone. At least one of the drug trafficking organizations working with Werther trafficked pills valued at more than $5 million that Werther illegally prescribed.

Dr. Werther worked with drug traffickers who recruited large numbers of pseudo-patients.  Werther set aside a specific block of time each business day to see the pseudo-patients recruited by Ronald Campbell, Anthony DiPasquale, Angel DuPrey, Kyle Jones, and William Stukes. With the help of Dr. Werther’s office staff, those “patients” were transported to Werther’s medical office at 301 Davisville Road in Willow Grove, PA, for cursory examinations.  The “patients” paid an office visit fee, usually $150, by cash, check, or money order, and Dr. Werther wrote prescriptions for them to obtain oxycodone-based drugs without there being a legitimate medical purpose for the prescription and outside the usual course of professional practice.  The “patients” were then driven to various pharmacies, including Northeast Pharmacy, to fill their prescriptions. The drugs were then turned over to the drug dealers so their organizations could sell the narcotics to numerous drug dealers who resold the drugs on the street. 

In September 2010, Dr. Werther knowingly dispensed approximately 150 pills containing 30 milligrams each of oxycodone and 30 pills containing 15 milligrams each of oxycodone to Nathaniel Backes for no legitimate medical purpose, and Nathaniel Backes’ death resulted from the use of that substance.

“Instead of using his medical license to help people, Dr. Werther chose to generate tremendous profits by putting hundreds of thousands of pills on the street illegally,” said First Assistant US Attorney Louis Lappen. “In one case, as the jury found, Dr. Werther’s criminal enterprise and blatant disregard for the safety of the community caused the death of a patient whom Dr. Werther knew had a history of drug addiction.  

“Werther peddled prescription-controlled substances in the very same way a street dealer pushes heroin to addicts.  His sentence reflects his greed and disregard for the safety of the community he claimed to serve,” said Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent-in-Charge David G. Dongilli.  “DEA will continue to aggressively investigate any doctor who is selling prescriptions without a legitimate medical need, thereby contributing to the epidemic of prescription drug addiction.”

How to Recognize a Pill Mill in Your Community (Warwick Advertiser)

Barbara Carreno, a spokesperson at the Drug Enforcement Administration, which enforces the federal controlled substance laws and was instrumental in the Milford investigation, said that while there are legitimate pain clinics, there are some common patterns and indicators of illegal pill operations that the public should be aware of.

“If you go to a clinic the first thing in the morning when it’s time for it to open and there’s long lines, and you see cars with out-of-state license plates in the parking lot,” Carreno said, “if you go into the clinic and it’s a cash-only business, they don’t want to take your insurance, and you see armed security guards there, those kinds of things are indicative of being a pill mill as opposed to a legitimate pain clinic.”

Things such as a lot of people coming into the clinic at the same time or close together with the same prescription, meaning not just for the same drug but for the same dosage; that’s also a sign of illegal activity, according to Carreno. Excessively large quantities of controlled substances being prescribed, large numbers of prescriptions being issued compared to other physicians in an area, and warnings to the patient to fill prescriptions at different drug stores could all mean the practitioner is inappropriately prescribing, according to DEA literature.

Carreno said that not just doctors but dentists, veterinarians, podiatrists, and nurse practitioners are all required to follow the guidelines laid out in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). An important specification within the law is that practitioners are required to do a physical examination before prescribing or dispensing medication.

“There are people that have legit injuries that get put on pain medication by their doctor,” the Warwick narcotics officer said. “It’s either the body becoming addicted to it or the doctor overprescribing. I don’t think most people want to get addicted to it.

“I think that’s just what the doctors are doing right now is that they prescribe the pain medication for a lot of injuries, and then the person becomes addicted to it, maybe they’re not weaned off it correctly, maybe they just develop an addiction and that’s what we’re finding is causing people to try to obtain the pill illegally because they are not ready to come off the pill or they have such a bad addiction, they have to have that pill.”

In 2017, Pennsylvania had the third highest drug overdose rate in the nation at 44.3 per 100,000 people, while the national average was 22 deaths per 100,000 people.

Between January 2018 and January 2020, there were 21,011 emergency room visits for opioid overdoses in Pennsylvania.

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Pain Killer by Barry Meier

Between 1999 and 2017, an estimated 250,000 Americans died from overdoses involving prescription painkillers, a plague ignited by Purdue Pharma’s aggressive marketing of OxyContin. Families, working class and wealthy, have been torn apart, businesses destroyed, and public officials pushed to the brink. Meanwhile, the drugmaker’s owners, Raymond and Mortimer Sackler, whose names adorn museums worldwide, made enormous fortunes from the commercial success of OxyContin.
In Pain Killer, Barry Meier tells the story of how Purdue turned OxyContin into a billion-dollar blockbuster. Powerful narcotic painkillers, or opioids, were once used as drugs of last resort for pain sufferers. But Purdue launched an unprecedented marketing campaign claiming that the drug’s long-acting formulation made it safer to use than traditional painkillers for many types of pain. That illusion was quickly shattered as drug abusers learned that crushing an Oxy could release its narcotic payload all at once. Even in its prescribed form, Oxy proved fiercely addictive. As OxyContin’s use and abuse grew, Purdue concealed what it knew from regulators, doctors, and patients.

If you are aware of controlled substance violations in your community, you can submit your anonymous tip through the DEA online Tip Line

How Authorities Are Dismantling Pennsylvania Pain Clinics Prescribing Excessive Amounts of Opioid Pain Pills