NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – April 30, 2020
SAN DIEGO – San Diego area psychiatrist Prakash Bhatia, M.D., has paid $145,000 to resolve allegations that he overprescribed opioids. Dr. Bhatia previously owned and operated Progressive Health and Wellness in El Cajon, California, practicing pain medicine.
The settlement stems from an investigation that the Drug Enforcement Administration initiated into whether Dr. Bhatia improperly prescribed opioids to his patients at Progressive Health and Wellness (PHW) in violation of the civil provisions of the Controlled Substances Act.
Pursuant to the Controlled Substances Act, health care providers may write prescriptions for opioids only for a legitimate medical purpose while acting in the usual course of their professional practice. Based on its investigation, the United States alleged that from March 2013 to December 2017, Dr. Bhatia wrote opioid prescriptions at PHW, including for hydromorphone, morphine, methadone, oxycodone, fentanyl and oxymorphone without a legitimate medical purpose and/or outside the usual course of his professional practice, in violation of the Controlled Substances Act. The United States alleged that Dr. Bhatia also prescribed these medications in combination with depressant medications (including benzodiazepines and muscle relaxants), which are known to increase the risk of abuse, addiction and overdose.
While the Department of Justice continues to aggressively investigate prescribers who brazenly seek to make money by writing opioid prescriptions to those who have no pain, this investigation exemplifies the Department’s willingness to scrutinize whether doctors treating patients who actually suffer painful conditions are nevertheless overprescribing opioids. Health care providers treating patients who suffer from pain must still only prescribe opioids in accordance with recognized and accepted medical standards.
Indeed, public health experts have, for over a decade, been increasingly warning health care providers that overdose risk is elevated in patients receiving medically prescribed opioids, particularly those receiving high dosages. As such, leading medical organizations, and domestic and international government agencies recommend health care providers carefully track the potency of opioids prescribed to patients by noting the Morphine Milligram Equivalent (MME, also commonly referred to as Morphine Equivalent Dose or MED) of prescribed opioids. Among other things, tracking MMEs advances better practices for pain management by reinforcing the need for providers to consider alternatives to using high-dosage opioids to treat pain, and to appropriately justify decisions to use opioids at dosages that place patients at high risk of addiction, abuse, and overdose. Furthermore, prescribing high dosages increases the risk that patients will divert opioids to people who were not prescribed them.
“Overprescribing opioids to patients who need treatment for their pain has contributed to the opioid epidemic in this country,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “This office is committed to utilizing all available tools to combat this epidemic, including civil prosecution under the Controlled Substances Act. As this settlement demonstrates, my office will continue to investigate health care providers for overprescribing opioids.” Brewer thanked prosecutors Dylan M. Aste and George V. Manahan and DEA agents for working hard to protect the public from opioid abuse.
“The DEA is committed to investigating health care providers to ensure they are dispensing opioid pain medications in compliance with the Controlled Substances Act,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge John W. Callery. “By holding the medical community accountable for improperly writing opioid prescriptions, the DEA is ensuring that San Diegans are safe from illicit prescribers who enable the abuse of prescription drugs for financial benefit.”
To report a tip directly to a DEA representative regarding medical personnel writing suspicious opioid prescriptions and pharmacies dispensing large amounts of opioids, call (571) 324-6499, or visit the DEA’s website (https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/) and click on “Report Illicit Pharmaceutical Activities.”
This matter was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Dylan M. Aste and George V. Manahan of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, with the assistance of agents and investigators from the DEA.
The claims resolved by this settlement are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability.