In last week’s blog, we revisited the topic of one of America’s largest problems: the opioid epidemic. That same blog highlighted a recent major takedown of perpetrators contributing to our nation’s crisis. When prescription drugs are obtained illegally, they are often abused. And, sadly, the result for far too many Americans is death. As we noted last week, the CDC reports upwards of 70,000 overdose deaths per year.
Medical professionals like Dr. Zongli Chang, of Livonia, Michigan, are certainly not helping the situation. He illegally distributed prescription drugs with the help of seven patient recruiters. For his trouble, he will be serving 135 months in prison, as reported by the United States Department of Justice last week. The sentence follows Chang’s previous guilty plea, as he admitted to having engaged in a “large-scale opioid diversion scheme”.
The scheme was conducted between January 2012 and May of 2017.
To pull of his scheme, Chang made use of several patient recruiters whose jobs it was to bring fake patients to his office. He would then write prescriptions for highly addictive controlled substance prescriptions that were completely unnecessary for the patients. Among the controlled substances that Chang prescribed were Hydrocodone-Acetaminophen, Oxycodone HCl, Alprazolam, Carisoprodol and Promethazine/codeine syrup.
Chang’s recruiters were paid in cash for bringing in the fake patients. According to the DoJ report, “the amount paid for a visit and prescription varied, but according to Chang’s plea agreement, he was typically paid at least $150, up to as high as $400 for more desirable opioid controlled substances.”
Chang got his recruiters to go with his patients to fill their prescriptions.
After issuing his prescriptions, Chang would have his patient recruiters transport his patients to pharmacies. There, they would have their prescriptions filled. The recruiters would then take the medications from the fake patients in order to distribute the drugs illegally. “These controlled substances had a conservative street value in excess of $18,000.000,” reveals the DoJ report.
Six of the seven patient recruiters have also pleaded guilty to engaging in this conspiracy.
Chang won’t just serve 135 months in prison. He has also been ordered to pay a $1 million criminal fine as well as a $3 million forfeiture of monies earned. Much of the forfeiture came by way of his assets that were seized close to the time of his arrest. Chang’s sentence should hopefully ward off other physicians who may be looking to profit from the illegal obtaining and distribution of drugs. It’s a hope held strongly by U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider, who announced the sentencing last week.
“This sentence sends a strong message to every other physician that deliberately writes unnecessary opioid prescriptions, knowing full well that the drugs will ultimately be sold on the streets, that they will be treated no differently than any other major drug dealer,” Schneider is quoted as saying in the Department of Justice report, “A medical license will not shield them from criminal consequences.”
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