A federal grand jury has indicted a group of people said to be involved in the trafficking of the opiate painkiller OxyContin. The Southern California operation centers around Lake Medical Group, a facility officials describe as a “pill mill.”
Among those who will answer to charges are 16 pharmacists. LMG owners Mike Mikaelian and Anjelika Sanamian allegedly worked with pharmacists and doctors to fraudulently obtain and distribute over a million of these synthetic opiate pills.
The ongoing federal investigation, named Operation Dirty Lake, found that the clinic conspired to obtain the OxyContin at little or no cost through Medicare and Medi-Cal. Pills were then sold on the street for between $23 and $27 per pill, according to the indictment.
The Sophisticated Operation Billed Two Programs For Millions Of Dollars
Federal investigators say that LMG had recruiters who found patients of Medicare and Medi-Cal and brought them to the clinic to claim cash or other rewards. LMG doctors then saw these patients and prescribed high dosage OxyContin and ordered unnecessary tests to justify the prescriptions, officials said.
Defendants are expected to stand trial in November 2012, though officials said one is still a fugitive. Officials say a large number of prescriptions were filled at pharmacies owned and operated by Arcadia pharmacist Theodore Yoon, who is 68. Other pharmacists charged were from cities including Irvine, San Marino and Huntington Park.
LMG is alleged to have fraudulently billed Medicare approximately $4.6 million and Medi-Cal approximately $1.6 million between 2008 and 2010, when it closed. In an effort to cover up the millions in profits, some of those charged are alleged to have made bank deposits of $10,000 or less to avoid red flags. Others spent large amounts of cash at casinos or on cars, jewelry or more OxyContin, the indictment said.
Someone associated with the ring then took the patients to pharmacies to fill the prescriptions. These patients then handed over the pills to these “runners,” who then sold them on the street.
The Prescription Painkiller Problem Affects Communities Everywhere
The abuse of prescription painkillers is responsible for untold numbers of addiction and overdose cases. Communities across the country are dealing with a surge of drug-related fraud and other crimes tied directly to prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin.
Also of concern to law enforcement officials is a resurgence in heroin, fueled by the prescription painkiller epidemic. Once people are hooked on opiate painkillers, many will instead turn to heroin, which is almost always cheaper and easier to find.