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Ohio Doctor Gets Prison Sentence And Fine For Nuedexta Kickback Scheme

A kickback is an illegal payment. It is intended as compensation for preferential treatment or any other type of improper services received. Kickbacks are considered a form of bribery and can take many different forms. For example, a doctor can increase the number of prescription drugs he/she prescribes in order to receive payments from the drug manufacturer.

Deepak Raheja is guilty of engaging in such a kickback scheme.

As reported, last Friday, by the Northern District of Ohio branch of the United States Department of Justice, the 66 year-old physician engaged in a kickback scheme with Avanir Pharmaceuticals. Following a guilty plea to his role in the pharmaceutical kickback conspiracy, Raheja received a 30-month prison sentence. In addition, he was ordered to surrender his medical license, pay $2,163,995 in restitution and pay a $50,000 fine.

Court documents showed that between February 2011 and July 2016, Raheja conspired with three individuals: Frank Mazzucco, Gregory Hayslette and Bhupinder Sawhny. The foursome worked together to increase the number of prescriptions that Raheja and Sawhny wrote for Nuedexta. They did so in exchange for the payment of monetary kickbacks and other items of value.

Nuedexta is a fixed-dose combination medication.

It is the brand name for dextromethorphan/quinidine. Marketed by Avanir Pharmaceuticals, Nuedexta is used for the treatment of pseudobulbar affect (PBA). PBA is also known as “emotional incontinence”. The condition is a type of emotional disturbance that is characterized by uncontrollable episodes of crying, laughing, anger or other emotional displays.

According to court records, Mazzucco and Hayslette were employed as pharmaceutical sales representatives by Avanir Pharmaceuticals. They worked in the region where Raheja and Sawhny practiced. Avanir promoted Nuedexta through a speaker’s bureau. The Avanir representatives engaged the doctors to speak about and promote Nuedexta to other medical professionals.

Typical speaking engagements involved dinner at high-end restaurants.

At these restaurants, the doctors would make presentations with slide decks provided by Avanir. An Avanir sales representative would be responsible for inviting attendees and attending the presentations. Raheja joined Avanir’s speaker’s bureau in February 2011. He gave approximately 211 speaking presentations at various restaurants and doctor’s offices between October 2011 and April 2016.

Court documents revealed that, for each presentation, Raheja received approximately $1,500. In total, he earned about $331,550 in kickback payments. With approximately 10,088 Nuedexta prescriptions written, Raheja wrote the highest number of scripts for the drug in the United States.

Raheja and Sawhny were incentivized by Mazzucco and Hayslette in a number of ways.

They included arranging speaker’s bureau programs (which were mostly social events), honoraria payments and the falsification of sign-in sheets from speaking engagements to maximize payments. They even provided food and beverages to the doctors and their office staff.

“Court documents explain that Raheja and Sawhny took steps in return for these things of value,” details the DoJ, “including writing more Nuedexta prescriptions; causing the submission of billings to Medicare and Medicaid for Nuedexta prescriptions for patients that did not have PBA; falsely diagnosing patients with PBA and recording fictitious symptoms in patient records to support a diagnosis of PBA.”

Mazzucco and Hayslette are both scheduled to be sentenced in February 2023. Sawhny was sentenced to serve three years’ probation and to pay $40,126.22 in restitution for his role in the scheme, the DoJ report concludes.

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