Believe it or not, North Alabama has been, at least until very recently, a contender for the nation’s leader in terms of frivolous opioid pain killer prescriptions.
Per an earlier plea agreement, on February 7, 2017, Dr. Shelinder Aggarwal, formerly of the Chronic Pain Services clinic in Huntsville, Alabama, was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for illegally prescribing these drugs and engaging in about $9.5 million in Medicare and other insurance fraud.
The sentence also included a fine that was levied against Dr. Aggarwal to the tune of some $6.7 million, in addition to requiring him to reimburse Medicare and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama for the same amount.
According to Medicare records, Dr. Aggarwal prescribed the most opioid pain killers in the United States in 2012. These included the familiar oxycodone and morphine, among others. Also, per the above-linked United States Department of Justice (DOJ) news release, this amount projected to be about 423 prescriptions per work week day for some 12.3 million pills dispensed that year.
Unfortunately that is not the end of the story locally. Last month, Dr. Weston Welker of the area’s Regional Spine & Wrist Center had his Alabama Controlled Substances Certificate (ACSC) suspended by the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners (ALBME) for overprescribing pain killers as well. He reportedly has a hearing with the agency on the matter scheduled for later this year.
Additionally, Dr. Rodney Rothstein, operating from the same office as Dr. Welker and who had been previously placed on probation by the ALBME, had his medical license to practice medicine in the state along with his ACSC outright revoked for violating it.
Finally, Dr. Mark Murphy, late of the North Alabama Pain Center in Madison and Decatur, relocated his office to Lewisburg, TN earlier this year and did not renew his Alabama medical license. Reportedly, he too had been scheduled for a disciplinary hearing with the ALBME for prescribing excessive pain killers. In 2014 Dr. Murphy was the United States’ leading prescriber of oxycodone.
Well, what does all this mean? It’s not exactly a secret that the over prescription of pain pills has had a devastating effect on patients’ care both locally and nationally. I see this occasionally with my SSA clients, unfortunately. How devastating? In my next blog I’ll discuss the extent of these effects in detail.
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James Ezzell is an attorney at the Bond & Botes Law Offices in Huntsville, Alabama. He holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Alabama, and a Juris Doctorate from the Mississippi College School of Law. James prides himself in working and winning SSA Disability cases for people truly in need of his help. Read his full bio here.