As physicians increasingly face charges for patients’ opioid overdoses and deaths, a 93-year-old doctor in Las Vegas was sentenced yesterday to 10 years in prison for his role in a pill mill conspiracy.
Henry Wetselaar, M.D., who practiced as a specialist in pain management, was sentenced for distributing large quantities of prescription opioids, including oxycodone, and other controlled substances without a medical purpose, according to an announcement from the District of Nevada U.S. Attorney’s office. He was also ordered to pay a $2.5 million fine.
Following a 10-week trial, a jury in March found Wetselaar guilty on a number of drug and money laundering charges. According to the indictment against him, the doctor performed house calls and maintained a medical practice, conspiring with his medical assistant and local drug dealers to distribute the drugs he prescribed in and around Las Vegas.
Doctors around the country are increasingly being held accountable when their patients overdose on opioid painkillers. Some are even facing murder charges, such as an Oklahoma doctor arrested in June and charged with five counts of second degree murder, after prosecutors say she prescribed opioid painkillers that resulted in five patients’ deaths. A Texas doctor also faces charges of illegally distributing drugs in connection with at least seven deaths, according to an indictment that was unsealed this month, according to a CNN report.
The number of doctors penalized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has grown more than fivefold in recent years. The agency took action against 88 doctors in 2011 and 479 in 2016, CNN reported.
The arrests of doctors are part of a growing effort by law enforcement to halt the country’s opioid epidemic, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says kills an average of 91 people a day.
Federal agencies last month conducted an “unprecedented” nationwide healthcare fraud takedown, with 412 charged in crimes that accounted for $1.3 billion in false claims—a significant number of cases related to opioid claims. As part of the takedown, 295 people were served exclusion notices related to opioid abuse and diversion, preventing them from submitting claims to federal healthcare programs.
The president’s opioid commission released an interim report this week that called on President Donald Trump to declare a national emergency and outlined immediate steps to reverse the country’s opioid epidemic.