A Philadelphia doctor with a suspended medical license used his colleague as a go-between to get prescription drugs so he could exchange them for sex, the United States Attorney's Office announced Wednesday.
The two doctors are among 14 people facing charges for illegally prescribing opioids to patients who didn't need the drugs in exchange for cash, the USAO said. Others include physician assistants and employees of urgent care facilities in the Philadelphia region.
According to prosecutors, 78-year-old Dr. Murray Soss had his medical license suspended in April 2017, so he turned to Dr. Frederick Reichle, 83, for help. Prosecutors say Soss would have Reichle fill out oxycodone prescriptions and then Soss would exchange the pills for sexual favors from one of his patients.
The indictment claims that when Reichle was not helping Soss to sexually exploit his patient, he was getting paid off to prescribe drugs for his colleague's other patients. Since his suspended medical license meant Soss wasn't allowed to prescribe meds, he allegedly paid Reichle to act as the middleman between people and drugs.
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Using this system, Soss got paid to accept new patients - at times receiving $2,500 per person - and then allegedly funneled those patients to Reichle, who would in turn provide the prescription. "Soss and Reichle charged the patients a fee to obtain oxycodone prescriptions, written by Reichle, that were not medically necessary," the District Attorney's Office said.
They and the 12 other defendants are accused of issuing more than 3,600 illegal prescriptions between 2014 and 2017.
"As alleged in these indictments, thousands of illegally prescribed pills flooded our streets because of the conduct of these defendants," U.S. Attorney William McSwain said in a news release.
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According to the USAO, the suspects routinely charged people an $80 to $140 office fee at any of four Advanced Urgent Care locations before prescribing them painkillers. Federal prosecutors say the suspects did this on a daily basis and ignored signs that patients were abusing the painkillers or even selling them off to others.
Despite urine tests showing patients testing positive for drugs like meth, heroin and cocaine, the defendants continued to prescribe them opioids, prosecutors say. Other times, the defendants allegedly ignored tests that came back negative for any drugs, which would suggest people were selling off their prescription meds.
The investigation, carried out federally by agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration; and locally by the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General and the Philadelphia Police Department, among others, found that the defendants exacerbated an opioid crisis already wreaking havoc on Pennsylvania.
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"The defendants issued 3,678 prescriptions which amount to hundreds of thousands of pills being used by addicted individuals," said Jonathan A. Wilson, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA's Philadelphia Field Division.
According to the DEA, opioids disproportionately contributed to the state's 5,456 overdose deaths in 2017. "The high availability and corresponding demand leading to the misuse of illicit and prescription opioids is a crisis without geographic, demographic, or socioeconomic boundaries in Pennsylvania," the agency concluded in a September 2018 report.
The 14 defendants are charged with distribution of oxycodone, conspiracy to dispense and distribute controlled substances outside the course of professional practice, health care fraud and related charges.