Doctor Accused Of Overprescribing Fentanyl, Health Care Fraud

By Paul Gaita 12/15/17

The Nevada doctor stands accused of 36 charges of distribution of controlled substances and three charges of health care fraud.

doctor handing prescription out

Police in Nevada have charged a cardiologist with 39 counts of unlawful distribution of prescription opioids, including fentanyl and oxycodone, as well as fraudulent billing for medical tests that he allegedly did not perform.

According to the Reno Gazette Journal and other media sources, Devendra Patel, 58, was arrested in Elko, Nevada and transported to Reno, where he appeared in federal court on December 13. There, federal prosecutors alleged that he prescribed opioid medication on a routine basis for patients without a legitimate medical reason for a period of more than three years. 

Additionally, Patel is accused of billing for medical tests that were not performed. According to Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre, Patel is the first person in Nevada to be charged since the formation of the Justice Department's Opioid Fraud and Abuse Unit, a pilot program announced by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in August to help fight the opioid epidemic through the assignment of a federal prosecutor specifically assigned to handle health care fraud cases related to prescription opioids.

According to the indictment against Patel, he is accused of 36 charges of distribution of controlled substances and three charges of health care fraud, each of which carries a maximum possible penalty of 10 years in prison. Allegedly, Patel wrote prescriptions for fentanyl—the synthetic opioid attributed in a recent report to more than half of the opioid overdose deaths in seven of 10 states—as well as hydrocodone and oxycodone from May 2014 to September 2017. 

Patel is also accused of billing Medicare and Medicaid for tests that were not actually performed; according to the indictment, he allegedly presented patients with fraudulent X-rays in an attempt to convince patients that they needed treatment for coronary issues, and allegedly performed electrocardiogram (EKG) tests to order nuclear stress tests, which he is accused of not performing.

The Patel case was a joint investigation that involved agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and various entities in Elko law enforcement.

"Despite his physician's oath to do no harm, Dr. Patel recklessly prescribed opioids, for no legitimate medical purpose," said FBI Agent Aaron Rouse. "The FBI is confident that today's arrest will send a message to other physicians that are prescribing opioids outside the scope of legitimate medical care. We are committed to using every tool in our arsenal to battle the opioid crisis in the state of Nevada."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.