Police are increasingly using the charge of drug delivery resulting in death to target street heroin dealers. Now, U.S. attorneys are using a similar, federal law to target the doctors whose prescriptions are often the first step in opioid addiction.
Pike County Doctor Fuhai Li was found guilty of unlawfully prescribing opioids to 23 former patients, including a woman who died as a result of using the pills, according to the office of U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania David Freed.
Over a four-year period, Li wrote over 27,000 opioid prescriptions, Freed said.
Li also was found guilty of money laundering and tax evasion.
The case sets a precedent in the middle district for targeting doctors whose prescription opioids can be tied to the death of a patient, Freed said.
“I think you will see more of these types of prosecutions as we become more adept at really determining that line between someone who is an active pain management doctor … and those who are really flouting the law, and that was the case here,” Freed said.
In this case, former patients testified that Li repeatedly prescribed high doeses of oxycodone every month over several years without performing medical exams and without verifying prior medical treatment. Several former patients said they sold a portion of their pills on the street to help fund their addictions.
Investigating doctors who recklessly prescribe pills serves justice, Freed said, but it’s also is a strategy for keeping prescription drugs off the streets. Research shows 80 percent of recent heroin users began their opioid addiction with prescription drugs.
The four-year investigation was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and the Pike County district attorney’s office. It was prosecuted as part of the U.S. attorneys’ heroin initiative, which “targets heroin and opioid traffickers,” according to a news release.
Freed said he’s aware of at least three other investigations underway that target doctors.