Doctors Charged With Fraudulently Prescribing Suboxone

By Paul Gaita 04/03/17

The doctors instructed unqualified staff members to write prescriptions for Suboxone at a Pennsylvania urgent care facility.

A doctor writing a prescription for a patient.

A judge in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania handed down jail sentences to two area physicians who used unqualified staff members at their practices to write prescriptions for a drug used to treat opioid addiction, which the doctors then submitted to insurance for reimbursement.

Chethan V. Byadgi and Rajaa Nebbari were sentenced to nine to 23 months in county jail, followed by 12 years of probation. Judge Michael Barrasse also ordered them to repay almost $200,000 in restitution and complete 1,000 hours of community service. Barrasse, who oversees the county's drug treatment courts, also suspended both physicians' licenses for three years, and the pair are banned from participating in Medicare and Medicaid for a period of five years.

In October 2015, the attorney general's office charged Byadgi and Nebbari with instructing unqualified staff members to write prescriptions for Suboxone at an urgent care facility where both doctors worked, as well as at their own clinic, Family Urgent Care. Former staffers said that Suboxone patients were rarely seen by the physicians, who then fraudulently collected reimbursements from Medicaid, Medicare and private insurers.

Both doctors pled guilty in April 2016 to single counts of insurance fraud, theft by deception and conspiracy to receive unentitled reimbursement, while Byadgi also pled guilty to one count of filing a false medical assistance claim. The pleas were part of an agreement with the attorney general's office, which would then allow the doctors to be sentenced to intermediate punishment, which usually does not involve incarceration.

But Judge Barrasse rejected the plea agreement, and gave Byadgi and Nebbari the option to withdraw their pleas. The physicians decided to move forward with the initial guilty pleas, prompting Barrasse to hand down the stricter sentencing. According to the judge, the sentences would serve in part as a deterrent for other medical professionals who might attempt to follow suit and commit a similar crime against addicts during a national opioid epidemic. "You had the ability to intervene in their lives and to make their life better," he told the pair before sentencing. "Neither one of you took that responsibility."

Before receiving their sentences, both Byadgi and Nebbari apologized for their actions, with Nebbari adding that she was sorry she "failed to behave like a physician." The pair is the latest in a series of cases involving medical professionals who received jail time for improperly prescribing pain medication or misusing their office for criminal activity that reaches back several years.

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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.