Physicians and other health care prescribers must remain hyper vigilant when prescribing, documenting, billing and managing opiate and other pain management prescriptions and patients. That’s the clear message sent by the ever-growing wave of federal prosecutions and convictions like the March 2, 2022 federal conviction of Tennessee physician Mark Murphy and his wife, Jennifer Murphy and his wife for unlawfully distributing opioids, providing unnecessary services and defrauding insurers from their now-shuttered North Alabama Pain Services clinics (“NAPS”) and March 1, 2022 sentencing of former physician Patrick Titus to 20 years in prison for his conviction of unlawful distribution of opioid drug outside the usual scope of professional practice and not for legitimate medical purposes as part of the his internal medicine practice.
Tennessee Doctor & Wife Convicted of Pain Management Related Unlawful Opioid Distribution, Health Care Fraud & Other Criminal Charges
The March 2 federal jury conviction of Dr. and Ms. Murphy stemmed from their ownership and operation of their now-defunct pain management clinics resulted from evidence gathered through a joint investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Inspector General, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Drug Enforcement Agency.
During the resulting jury trial, federal prosecutors presented evidence that during the five-year period leading up to the clinic closing its Alabama locations in 2017, Dr. Murphy and Ms. Murphy, who was the office manager, caused over $50 million in fraudulent or unnecessary medical services to be charged to Medicare, TRICARE, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama and others. Evidence at trial showed that NAPS provided pre-signed prescriptions to thousands of patients a month, including prescriptions written outside the usual course of professional practice without a legitimate medical purpose. Federal prosecutors also introduced evidence that the Murphys also solicited and received unlawful payments for referring fraudulent or unnecessary services to patients.
Based on the evidence, the jury found both Dr. and Ms. Murphy guilty on numerous criminal charges including:
- Conspiracy to unlawfully distribute and unlawful distribution of controlled substances;
- Conspiracy to commit and commission of health care fraud;
- Conspiracy to defraud the United States; and
- Receiving illegal kickbacks in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute.
Ms. Murphy also was convicted of tax-related charges for underreporting clinic income.
Currently scheduled for sentencing in June, the Murphys each face a maximum of 20 years in prison for the drug charges and a maximum of 10 years in prison for the health care fraud charges. Both defendants also face a maximum of five years in prison for charges stemming from violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute, and Ms. Murphy faces up to three years in prison for the tax charges.
Former Delaware Doctor Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison for Unlawful Opioid Distribution
The Murphy’s jury conviction came one day after the sentencing of former to 20 years in prison for his July 2021 federal jury conviction on 13 counts of unlawfully distributing and dispensing controlled substances and one count of maintaining a drug-involved premises.
Federal prosecutors presented evidence in court documents and trial that Dr. Titus unlawfully distributed or dispensed opioid drugs including fentanyl, morphine, methadone, OxyContin and oxycodone outside the usual scope of professional practice and not for legitimate medical purposes as part of the his internal medicine practice. The Justice Department charged Dr. Titus frequently prescribed these dangerous controlled substances in high dosages, sometimes in combination with each other or in other dangerous combinations, mostly in exchange for cash. Evidence at trial showed he distributed over 1 million opioid pills without providing any meaningful medical care and to patients he knew were suffering from substance use disorder and/or who demonstrated clear signs that the prescribed drugs were being abused, diverted or sold on the street.
Health Care Fraud Task Force Targeting Opioid Distribution, Billing, & Related Misconduct
Both the Murphy and Titus prosecutions and convictions are two of a growing series of convictions resulted from investigations into opioid and other pain management prescribing conducted as part of efforts targeting physicians and other health care providers involved in prohibited the federal Health Care Fraud Strike Force Program. See e.g., Medical Director Convicted in $110 Million Addiction Treatment Fraud Scheme.
The Federal agencies made a point of warning to other physicians not to overprescribe, bill or engage in other prohibited dealings involving opioids or other controlled substances when announcing the Titus sentencing.
“As we continue the fight against the opioid crisis, this case serves as an important reminder that health care professionals have a duty to prescribe medication responsibly to ensure the well-being of individuals under their care. Failing to do so can endanger patients and undermines critical, ongoing public health measures,” said Special Agent in Charge Maureen Dixon of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “HHS-OIG will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to hold bad actors accountable.”
“This sentence is a reminder that the Department of Justice will hold accountable those doctors who are illegitimately prescribing opioids and fueling the country’s opioid crisis,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Doctors who commit these unlawful acts exploit their roles as stewards of their patients’ care for their own profit.”
“DEA-registered medical practitioners have an important role in our communities to treat patients compassionately and responsibly,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. “Today’s sentencing makes clear that medical professionals who recklessly prescribe opioids and endanger the safety and health of patients will be held accountable.”
We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.
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About the Author
Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.
A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, Vice Chair of the American Bar Association (“ABA”) International Section Life Sciences and Health Committee, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with HHS-OCR, past chair of the the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Ms. Stamer is most widely recognized for her decades of pragmatic, leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on health and managed care industry legal, public policy and operational concerns.
Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 30 plus year career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns.
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