Officials Crackdown On Physicians Illegally Prescribing Painkillers

As the abuse of legal medications leads to growing addiction rates, law enforcement is continuing with their crackdown on doctors who supply patients with painkillers illegally. The most recent instance has a Pittsburgh-area doctor at its center. In September 2012, Oliver Herndon, 40, was sentenced to more than 11 years in federal prison. The doctor has also been ordered to repay $700,000 to two health insurance companies, which paid for most of the drugs.

The married father of five pleaded guilty in May to a charge of intentionally prescribing controlled substances — mostly the painkillers oxycodone and oxymorphone — without a legitimate medical purpose and with healthcare fraud and agreed to the sentence imposed. During his sentencing, Herndon admitted to the judge that his actions were “wrong” and he accepted responsibility for his actions.

The judge took issue, however, with Herndon referring to his actions as a mistake, insisting that what he did was instead a series of criminal acts that affected many people’s lives negatively.

The arrest was the result of a lengthy investigation that began in fall 2011 after 26 Pittsburgh-area pharmacies contacted federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents with concerns about unusually large prescriptions for narcotic painkillers from Herndon.

The DEA raided Herndon’s palliative care practice in an upscale suburb. His federal license to issue narcotic prescriptions was revoked after officials visited an additional 128 area pharmacies only to find 87 others had stopped filling Herndon’s prescriptions.

Herndon’s allegedly supplied patients with so many illegal painkillers that his arrest in early 2012 caused the street price of the pills to double in some locations as his “customers” scrambled to get their meds elsewhere. When he was operating, a single oxycodone tablet cost between $20 and $30. After Herndon’s arrest, the price jumped to $40.

As prescription drug abuse grows, officials are finding it necessary to stop the flow of drugs at the gatekeepers, in this case physicians. In the meantime, many addicted individuals are suffering due to physicians’ abuse of power.

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