U.S. Attorney Takes Aim at Doctors Overprescribing Drugs

LAS VEGAS -- Other than dying from natural causes, accidental prescription drug overdoses are the number one cause of death in Clark County. In fact, more people died from accidental prescription overdoses in 2012 than homicides, suicides, and fatal car accidents combined.

Doctors who are liberal when it comes to writing prescriptions are in the cross hairs of the U.S. Attorney Dan Bogden. He believes a small number of these doctors are largely responsible for Nevada's abnormally high overdose rate. He recently indicted five people and he is about to indict four more.

"We're in the process of completing the investigations and we'll be taking them down shortly," Bogden said.

Bogden's investigators watched as one doctor peddled hydrocodone out of the trunk of his Jaguar in a hospital parking lot. A different doctor is accused of opening a pipeline of narcotics by partnering with a high-level drug dealer to bring in busloads of day laborers.

"He'd pay these day laborers $100 and buy them lunch," Bogden said. "These individuals would not receive medical exams, they simply were there so the doctor could record their names and identification documents."

Each laborer would get a prescription, then a drug dealer would take those scripts to a pharmacy, pocket the pills, and sell them on the street. Usually it was highly addictive oxycontin or oxycodone. It proved to be a lucrative operation.

"The pills were selling for about $15 a pill, and this drug trafficker was illegally diverting approximately 300,000 pills a week," Bogden said.

To get an idea of the staggering amount of prescription pills in the community, one only has to talk to the Clark County Coroner Michael Murphy.

His investigators take prescription pills they recover from death scenes and pour them into a 50-gallon barrel. It used to take a year to fill up the barrel. Now, it's overflowing every 90 days.

"Accidental overdoses in Clark County represent more deaths than homicides, suicide, and motor vehicle accidents combined," Murphy said.

That's why the U.S. Attorney is cracking down.

"They're nothing more than drug traffickers, just common drug dealers," Bogden said.

He is quick to point out that most doctors follow the rules. But, too many overprescribe and succumb to pressure from addicts who come to their office looking for a fix.

Painkillers Mean Big Business for Medicare in Nevada

"Once you become dependant on an opiate, and your wake up in the morning and you need it, you'll say almost anything to your doctor to try to convince them."

Dave Marlon runs a recovery center and says many addicts "doctor shop" by reciting key words from the very textbook doctors use.

"It's a small town and they all know which are the docs that write prescriptions."

The investigative journalist group ProPublica, publishes a list of the top prescribers in every state. Based on Medicare Part D claims from 2011, there is a list of the doctors who dispensed more oxycodone than anyone else in Las Vegas.

8 News NOW contacted the top four prescribers and asked for an explanation, but each one declined to comment on camera, but a few of the doctors were willing to talk over the phone.

One said someone stole his prescription pad. Another complained that his office is swamped with patients pleading for drugs to get them through jobs that require painful repetitive movement and when he doesn't prescribe something, they berate his office on the Internet with bad reviews which affect his business. Another doctor talked about a 70-year-old woman who'd get 100 oxycodone pills a month. She became so familiar with the staff, she'd bring them cookies. Eventually a random test revealed she wasn't taking the drugs, and was probably selling them.


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