A former Needham doctor and his nurse practitioner caused the overdose deaths of at least six people they knew to be drug-addicted by systematically prescribing them medically unnecessary painkillers in order to make a profit, according to charges handed up in federal court in Boston.
Dr. Joseph P. Zolot, a specialist in nonsurgical orthopedics, and nurse practitioner Lisa M. Pliner were indicted on charges of conspiring to illegally distribute controlled substances — including methadone, oxycodone, and fentanyl — and six counts each of distribution of controlled substances resulting in deaths. If convicted, they each face a mandatory sentence of 20 years to life in prison.
Law enforcement officials said it is one of the most significant cases of medical misconduct to reach a criminal court anywhere in the country.
“The conduct alleged in today’s indictment is incomprehensible,’’ US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said. “I hope it sends a strong message that the government will aggressively prosecute any medical professional who facilitates the distribution of dangerous and addictive drugs purely for financial gain.’’
Well, not any more incomprehensible than the pill factories masquerading as medical practices in Florida.
The indictment alleges that Zolot and Pliner knew their patients were addicted to drugs, including street drugs such as cocaine, but prescribed medically unnecessary painkillers in exchange for cash or payments from insurance companies. Authorities say patients then overdosed on those drugs, causing their own deaths…
“The deaths alleged by the government in [the] indictments are horrible tragedies; so too is the fact the government has chosen to charge Dr. Zolot with criminal conduct for the manner in which he practiced medicine and treated patients,’’ David Meier [Zolot’s lawyer] said. “His intent was to do good as a doctor. It was never his intent to cause harm, never mind death, to any patient…”
The prescription of painkillers for certain medical conditions is allowed even if the patient is a known addict — but only if the patient and the potential for abuse are monitored, according to standard medical procedures.
In this case, prosecutors said, the duo handed out an extraordinary number of prescriptions in blatant disregard for their patients’ safety, all for a profit.
“A license to practice is not a license to deal, and that is precisely what is alleged in this indictment,’’ said Steve Derr, special agent in charge of the Boston office of the US Drug Enforcement Agency.
RTFA. The details of the deaths in the case are there. I’m really of two minds about the case – not knowing any details, whether the accusations are true or false.
I’ve known physicians who prescribed painkillers for addicts. As the law states, there can be sound medical reasons for doing so. There’s also no shortage of doctors who pick up an easy buck prescribing for doctor-shoppers looking for a quick fix. I will follow the trial.