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The Justice Department Files Complaints against Two Ohio Doctors in Precedence Setting Case Involving Opioid Prescription Abuse

It’s a bitter irony that doctors, who are charged with helping to alleviate the nation’s opioid problem, are sometimes responsible for making that problem worse. The government alleges that this is what happened when late last month the Justice Department filed a first-of-its-kind complaint against two Ohio-area doctors after it was revealed that the physicians had needlessly distributed pain killers and other drugs to their patients. The doctors – Michael P. Tricaso, D.O., of Akron, and Gregory J. Gerber, M.D., of Sandusky – have been charged under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and are now forbidden from writing prescriptions of any kinds. Earlier this year, President Trump announced the Initiative to Stop Opioid Abuse and Reduce Drug Supply and Demand. This act seeks to address the nation’s growing opioid problem by addressing it at the prescription level.

From this Initiative has arisen the Prescription Interdiction & Litigation (PIL) Task Force which aggressively deploys and coordinates all available criminal and civil law enforcement tools in order to stem the tide of opioid addiction. “These doctors were simply drug dealers in white lab coats,” said U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman. “They illegally prescribed painkillers and other drugs for no legitimate medical purpose. Putting so-called physicians like these out of business is one of several steps we are taking to turn the tide on the opioid and drug crisis that has caused so much death and heartbreak in our community.”

“Excessive prescribing and reckless distribution of opioids and other drugs have harmed our communities and fueled the public health crisis we are currently dealing with,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. “At the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, we are committed to protecting Ohio families and collaborating with our law enforcement partners to ensure that those who ignore the law, put people at risk, and contribute to this crisis are held accountable for their actions.”

Tricaso operates the Better Living Clinic in Akron, Ohio. According to the complaint, Tricaso sold steroids and other controlled substances numerous times this year to an undercover DEA agent in a hotel parking lot. Gerber, it is alleged, promoted Subsys, a sublingual formulation of fentanyl spray used to treat cancer-related pain and in doing so received $175,000 from Insys Therapeutic, Inc. This, the government says, violated the False Claims Act’s prohibition against kickbacks. Gerber was himself the target of an undercover investigation that revealed his practice of illegally prescribing controlled substances such as Oxycodone, Dronabinol and Alprazolam. Both men are accused of violating the CSA. Gerber is also accused of violating the False Claims Act.

“These doctors pledged an oath dedicating their lives to treating patients but instead they traded that commitment for the pursuit of ill-gotten profits through the fraudulent prescribing of opioids,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen D. Anthony. “This case should serve as a warning to other physicians of the perils of engaging in such activities, law enforcement will continue collaborative efforts to hold individuals accountable.”

These cases were investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General, the Ohio Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, and other state and governmental entities. The False Claims Act is another tool the government uses to ensure the integrity of the healthcare system. One tool the government uses to this end is the qui tam or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act. It permits private individuals to sue on behalf of the US and to share in any recovery. Plaintiffs usually do so through the services of a False Claims Act lawyer. Qui tam law firms handle all aspect of the False Claims Act.