WASHINGTON—The Justice Department has barred two Ohio-based doctors from writing prescriptions, saying they “recklessly and unnecessarily distributed painkillers and other drugs,” according to a statement on Aug. 22.
The action is the first of its kind and uses a temporary restraining order to immediately stop the doctors from prescribing, without waiting for a criminal prosecution.
“These doctors were simply drug dealers in white lab coats,” said U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman in a statement.
One of the doctors, Michael P. Tricaso, D.O., operates the Better Living Clinic in Akron and serves as the “gym doctor” at a workout facility in Painesville, according to the DOJ.
Tricaso met with an undercover agent from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in a hotel parking lot on June 26, where the agent asked him for a prescription of the opioid Vicodin, the DOJ said. Tricaso told the undercover agent that he didn’t like to write prescriptions because they are traceable, but later said he could sell 50 Percocet pills for $500 and write a prescription for 20 Percocet—which he did on July 2, according to the DOJ.
A second sale occurred July 18, when Tricaso allegedly sold the agent 100 Percocet for $1,000.
Both alleged sales violate the Controlled Substances Act.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Trump administration wants to reduce opioid prescriptions by one-third in three years.
“According to the National Prescription Audit, over the past year, we reduced prescriptions by 11 percent. That’s in addition to a 7 percent decline in 2017,” Sessions said in Ohio during the announcement on Aug. 22.
The second doctor, Gregory J. Gerber, M.D., of Sandusky, is accused of receiving $175,000 in kickbacks from a company that makes liquid fentanyl for cancer patients. He’s also charged with prescribing opioid pain medication, including oxycodone, to an undercover agent without proper examination or indication of pain.
“This happened on seven different occasions over seven months. Eventually, he doubled the dosage and the strength of the pills,” Sessions said.
“Today’s announcements are a warning to every trafficker, every crooked doctor or pharmacist, and every drug company, every chairman and foreign national and company that puts greed before the lives and health of the American people: this Justice Department will use civil and criminal penalties alike and we will find you, put you in jail, or make you pay,” he said.
The DOJ is seeking up to $700,000 in damages from Tricaso, Sessions said. He said early estimates of Gerber’s alleged false claims to Medicare total $2.8 million, and the DOJ will seek at least triple the total in damages.
In 2017, more than 71,500 Americans died from drug overdoses, according to provisional numbers released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Aug. 15.