WASHINGTON – Attorney General William P. Barr and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex M. Azar II, together with multiple law enforcement partners, today announced enforcement actions involving 60 charged defendants across 11 federal districts, including 31 doctors, seven pharmacists, eight nurse practitioners, and seven other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in the illegal prescribing and distributing of opioids and other dangerous narcotics and for health care fraud schemes.
In the Northern District of Alabama, multiple individuals were charged in five cases, including four doctors. They are: Dr. Celia Lloyd-Turney, Dr. Marshall Plotka, Dr. John Cimino and Dr. Elizabeth Korcz. Katherine Barnett is named in the complaint with Cimino.
Lloyd-Turney operates Choice Medicine Clinic in Toney, and Plotka is founder and Chief Medical Officer of Phoenix Emergency Care in Huntsville.
The press release from the Department of Justice says Plotka recruited prostitutes and other young women with whom he had sexual relationships to become patients at his clinic, while simultaneously allowing them and their associates to abuse illicit drugs at his house.
It says Lloyd-Turney dispensed controlled substances and other prescription drugs directly from the clinic, and prescribed excessive quantities of controlled substances to the same patients several times per month, resulting in as many as 15 pills per day for some patients.
It also says Lloyd-Turney signed blank prescription forms to be completed by her staff when she was not at the clinic.
The press release says Dr. John Cimino and Katherine Barnett are charged with the unlawful distribution of controlled substances and health care fraud. In that case, a doctor allegedly prescribed opioids in high dosages, dangerous combinations, and in many cases, after having knowledge that patients failed drug screens and were addicts, preferring cash payments and charging a “concierge fee” that ranged from approximately $50 per visit or $600 per year.
In addition to assistance provided by the FBI, DEA, HHS-OIG, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and the Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations, these cases were brought in connection with assistance from the Hoover Police Department, the Huntsville Police Department, the Huntsville Area HIDTA Drug Task Force Strategic Counter Drug Team, the Marshall County Drug Task Force, the Alabama Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, and the Madison County Sheriff’s Office.
In addition, HHS announced today that since June 2018, it has excluded over 2,000 individuals from participation in Medicare, Medicaid and all other Federal health care programs, which includes more than 650 providers excluded for conduct related to opioid diversion and abuse. Since July 2017, DEA has issued 31 immediate suspension orders, 129 orders to show cause, and received 1,386 surrenders for cause nationwide for violations of the Controlled Substances Act.
“The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history, and Appalachia has suffered the consequences more than perhaps any other region,” Attorney General William P. Barr said. “But the Department of Justice is doing its part to help end this crisis. One of the Department's most promising new initiatives is the Criminal Division's Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force, which began its work in December. Just four months later, this team of federal agents and 14 prosecutors has charged 60 defendants for alleged crimes related to millions of prescription opioids. I am grateful to the Criminal Division, their U.S. Attorney partners, and to the members of the strike force for this outstanding work that holds the promise of saving many lives in Appalachian communities.”
“Reducing the illicit supply of opioids is a crucial element of President Trump’s plan to end this public health crisis,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “It is also vital that Americans struggling with addiction have access to treatment and that patients who need pain treatment do not see their care disrupted, which is why federal and local public health authorities have coordinated to ensure these needs are met in the wake of this enforcement operation. The Trump Administration’s law enforcement and public health leaders will continue to work hand in hand to end this crisis that has hit Appalachia hard and steals far too many lives across America every day.”
For any patients impacted by the law enforcement operations, DOJ, DEA, HHS-OIG, HHS’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and all five State Departments of Health are deploying federal and state-level strategies to address patient harm and insure continuity of care. Additional information regarding available treatment programs and where patients can turn for assistance is available as follows:
Alabama: The Alabama Department of Mental Health has a dedicated telephone number to connect those affected by the closure. The toll-free substance abuse number is 1-844-307-1760. Information about substance abuse and opioids is available at the following websites:
If you, a family member, friend or loved one believe you may be a victim in any of these cases or in connection with any charged defendant, please visit the following website for additional information: https://www.justice.gov/criminal-vns/case/ARPO