LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A Louisville doctor is among the dozens of medical professionals nailed with federal drug charges stemming from a seven-state opioid bust.
31 doctors, seven pharmacists, eight nurse practitioners and seven others who are owners, operators or clinic employees from Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Alabama are involved in the bust, which officials said is the largest crackdown of its kind in United States history.
>> RELATED STORY: Feds arrest 60 people in illegal opioid bust
While speaking to media on Wednesday, members of the Appalachian Regional Prescription Strike Force said those involved handed out around 350,000 prescriptions, totaling more than 32 million pills.
Dr. Christopher Nelson with Bluegrass Pain Consultants in Louisville has been named in the conspiracy. He’s accused of taking bribes and kickbacks from Assured RX, LLC, a pharmaceutical company in Florida. Assured RX, headed by Nitesh Patel, produced compounded drug products that were prescribed by Nelson and other medical professionals at BPC, according to Nelson’s indictment.
Specifically, BPC prescribed compounded creams for scars, pain and other ailments.
Bluegrass Pain Consultants was established by Nelson in April 2008, however the conspiracy with Assured RX didn’t begin until November 2014, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors believe Nelson accepted payments from Assured RX in exchange for prescribing compounded drugs to patients, many of whom were on Medicare and Tricare. Assured RX would then submit the claims, resulting in reimbursement.
The indictment says the conspiracy caused Tricare to pay Assured RX $41,611.35 for compounded drug products between November 2014 and July 2015. During that time, the indictment claims Patel, on behalf of Assured RX, paid nearly $226,000 in bribes and kickbacks.
In another section of the indictment, it’s alleged that between January 2016 and May 2018, the conspiracy caused Medicare to pay Assured RX approximately $2.4 million for the compounded drug products. Tricare had to pay approximately $842.08.
During this time, the indictment says Nelson was paid more than $906,000 in kickbacks through checks and electronic payments to a relative’s bank account.
Nelson would also receive a higher commission rate from Assured RX and Patel for patients with commercial insurance in exchange for the referral of government issued patients, according to the indictment.
Nelson has also been accused of granting bonuses to nurse practitioners and physician assistants at BPC based on the number of compounded drugs prescribed and filled by Assured RX. Physicians at the practice would either sign off on the prescription or an employee would sign or stamp the physician’s name on the order form.
The indictment also claims Nelson overbilled Medicare and Tricare by charging nearly five times the real cost on several occasions.
The Strike Force which busted Nelson and dozens of others included more than 300 investigators from all of the states involved.
“Let me be clear, if so-called medical professionals are going to behave like drug dealers, we at the Department of Justice, we’re going to treat them like drug dealers," Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said.
Prosecutors said more than 28,000 patients are affected by the arrests.
FBI and DEA agents were in and out of the Bluegrass Pain Consultants offices in Louisville and LaGrange back in June 2018. Kentucky State Police and LMPD officers assisted in the raid, taking in empty boxes and coming out with them full of evidence. At the time, law enforcement wouldn’t say why they were investigating.
It’s not clear if those incidents are related to this case.