BY: Lisa Esser-Weidenfeller | IN: Employment Law, Personal Injury
For the last few years, media outlets have run thousands of stories about the opioid epidemic plaguing our nation. For good reason. Drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, with two-thirds of deaths due to opioids.
To curb this epidemic, the U.S. Department of Justice has begun to focus its attention on the aggressive investigation and prosecution of medical professionals running “pill mills” that violate the federal Controlled Substances Act. Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and other states along the I-75 corridor have opioid prescription rates as much as four times higher than the national average contributing to the skyrocketing number of opioid overdoses in the Midwest.
While there are legitimate uses for prescribed opioids such as in an acute care setting or in hospice, much of the increased usage is from prescription drug abuse. Pill mills have saturated our communities, earning millions of dollars for the prescribing physicians while leaving our friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers with lifelong addictions.
A pill mill refers to a clinic, pharmacy, or doctor in the practice of prescribing strong pain narcotics in an excessive and inappropriate manner. Some signs that a healthcare provider might be a pill mill include:
In December 2019, several physicians in Warren, Michigan – Dr. Rajendra Bothra, Dr. Eric Bakos, Dr. Ganiu Edu, Dr. David Lewis, Dr. Christopher Russo, and Dr. Ronald Kufner – were arrested and charged with operating one of the nation’s largest healthcare fraud schemes – swindling the government and private health insurers of nearly $500 million dollars and unlawfully prescribing more than 13 million opioids.
This was just the latest multimillion-dollar pill mill that authorities discovered. Other illicit schemes uncovered in the last few years include:
The U.S. Department of Justice and local state agencies have been doing everything in their power to crack down on these pill mills, but they can’t do it without the help of those with inside knowledge of illegal activities.
Under the qui tam provisions of the federal False Claims Act, a current or former employee of a pill mill who has information about potentially illegal opioid prescribing may bring a civil case on behalf of the United States. The person filing the complaint is called a “relator” or whistleblower, and if the case is successful, the whistleblower can earn between 15 to 30% of the amount the government ultimately collects from the wrongdoers. With pill mills pulling in tens of millions of dollars, the awards can be significant.
To qualify as a whistleblower and receive an award, one must have inside, non-public, information. Present and former employees working in pill mills are ideal candidates, as are patient recruiters and pharmacists.
Not only can whistleblowers earn significant money, but they can also be heroes and take a stand against the opioid crisis in their communities and states.
It is important to note that whistleblowers are safe from retaliatory action by the accused person and organization. Moreover, a whistleblower doesn’t lose his or her protection if a lawsuit isn’t successful or if an investigation fails to reveal any wrongdoing, as long as the whistleblower acted in good faith.
If you have information about a suspected pill mill, a doctor whom you believe is overprescribing opioids, a pharmacy or pharmacist that you think is filling or dispensing illegal prescriptions, or allegations of any other healthcare fraud, please contact Lisa Esser-Weidenfeller at (248) 746-4015 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ms. Esser-Weidenfeller is actively involved in prosecuting those responsible for creating the opioid epidemic, and currently represents several municipalities suing Big Pharma for their role in this crisis. Rest assured, all communications are protected by the attorney-client privilege and will be kept strictly confidential. She can help you determine whether or not you have a case and are entitled to whistleblower protection.
Finally, if you acted as a patient recruiter, marketer, or worker in a pill mill and fear criminal or civil action, we can confidentially approach federal prosecutors on your behalf before any case is filed. It has been our experience that the federal and state authorities are much more interested in prosecuting doctors than others who had a small role before stepping forward to expose wrongdoing and illegal activities.
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Lisa Esser-Weidenfeller focuses her practice on medical malpractice, automobile negligence, and general negligence litigation on behalf injured plaintiffs.