Justice Department bars doctors accused of prescribing unnecessary opioids from writing prescriptions

The Department of Justice took a first-of-its-kind legal action to stop two doctors accused of illegally prescribing opioids from writing any further prescriptions.

The DOJ served two Ohio doctors with temporary restraining orders that bar them from writing prescriptions, after it alleged the physicians prescribed medically unnecessary opioids, according to a department announcement Wednesday. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the civil injunction against the doctors is the first of its kind and another step in the administration’s battle against the country’s opioid epidemic.

The action was part of the latest crackdown by the Justice Department that Sessions detailed in a speech he gave yesterday in Cleveland, Ohio, that targeted the doctors and included the indictment of two Chinese nationals accused of shipping synthetic opioids and an operation to shut down online black markets.

Temporary restraining orders were served this week that forbid Michael P. Tricaso, D.O., of Akron, and Gregory J. Gerber, M.D., of Sandusky, from writing prescriptions. Sessions said in his speech that the charges against all the defendants in the cases he discussed are just allegations and they are innocent until proven guilty.

“These injunctions—a temporary restraining order—will stop immediately these doctors from prescribing—without waiting for a criminal prosecution,” Sessions said.

Sessions said the action marks the first ever civil injunctions brought against physicians under the Controlled Substances Act. 

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In his speech, Sessions said, “Today’s announcements are a warning to every trafficker, every crooked doctor or pharmacist, and every drug company, every chairman and foreign national and company that puts greed before the lives and health of the American people: this Justice Department will use civil and criminal penalties alike and we will find you, put you in jail, or make you pay.”

The DOJ alleges that Tricaso sold thousands of dollars of narcotics without a legitimate medical pursue. He allegedly sold drugs to an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent in a hotel parking lot over a three-month period, Sessions said. According to documents filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Tricaso operates the Better Living Clinic in Akron, which he promotes at gyms across northeast Ohio. The lawsuit seeks up to $700,000 in damages from Tricaso.

The complaint for the injunction said Gerber, who ran a medical practice in Sandusky, prescribed “countless” opioids and submitted false claims to Medicare that totaled $2.8 million. The complaint charges he prescribed oxycodone to an undercover agent over seven months. Sessions said the Justice Department will seek at least triple that total in damages. The charges also allege he accepted $175,000 in kickbacks from Insys Therapeutics, Inc. company that makes a fentanyl drug intended for cancer patients, a drug he prescribed to patients who did not have cancer, Sessions said.

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President Donald Trump last week urged Sessions to sue opioid manufacturers, and the attorney general said in his speech he would follow through with civil action against drug companies when it is warranted by law and will make criminal charges where appropriate.

In addition to the restraining orders, Sessions announced indictments of the leaders of a Chinese drug trafficking organization and charges against online “dark net” opioid dealers.

Since January 2017, the Justice Department has charged more than 150 doctors and another 150 medical personnel with opioid-related crimes.