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Via America’s Lawyer: RT Correspondent Brigida Santos joins Farron Cousins, filling in for Mike Papantonio, to discuss a $464 million scheme in which 6 Michigan doctors have been charged with insurance fraud and unnecessarily prescribing opioids to patients.

Transcript:

*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Farron Cousins: Federal prosecutors have charged six Michigan doctors in a $464 million dollars healthcare fraud scheme that resulted in 13 million doses of opioid painkillers being illegally prescribed to patients. Here to discuss the details of the story is RT correspondent Brigida Santos. Brigida, how significant is this case in the fight against opioids?

Brigida Santos: Farron this is incredibly significant. The opioid crisis has gotten completely out of control and this case is just one of many examples. Now for years, as you said, six doctors at three Michigan pain clinics that were owned and operated by the same person, illegally prescribed over 13 million opioids to patients suffering from joint and spinal injuries. Now the 56 count indictment outlines how the doctors submitted over $450 million dollars in fake claims across Medicaid, Medicare, and Blue Cross of Michigan so that they could personally get rich off the reimbursement’s.

Not only did they create fake claims, they also reportedly prescribed opioids to patients so that they would get hooked and keep coming back for more, and they also gave up to 70 patients per day unnecessary painful back injections and other treatments and tests in exchange for these drugs. Now the fact that this is going to trial is a huge deal because it signifies that the DOJ is finally cracking down on Dr. drug dealers.

Farron Cousins: You know what’s really interesting to me too, and you hit it on the head there, is that they become addicted and they keep coming back. When you prescribe a non-addictive painkiller, you don’t end up with that long-term patients, so that’s really the key here is you have to give them something like an opiate that is highly addictive to create that repeat customer. So how long did federal officials actually monitor these pain centers before raiding these offices and shutting them down?

Brigida Santos: It’s actually unclear when they started monitoring the clinics, but it was likely very recently since the doctors were still illegally writing opioid prescriptions as of last month. Now this scam began back in 2013 and it took many agencies to investigate, including the US Department of Health and Human Services, the FBI, and also the DEA. Now, the mastermind of this scheme, Dr. Rajendra Bothra and his co-conspirators, they managed to cheat the federal healthcare benefit program and defraud tax payers for a really long time before anybody noticed this, but still it’s really good that they did get caught.

Farron Cousins: So some states like Missouri want to limit opioid prescriptions to a one week supply. Are any other states taking any kind of aggressive approaches to combat this opioid epidemic?

Brigida Santos: They are, now so far, Florida and Tennessee have taken similar measures and also surprise, Michigan has too. Back in July, Michigan passed a new law prohibiting doctors from prescribing more than one week supply of opioids at a time, but the problem with this law is that it only applies to patients who suffer from acute pain, like broken bones, not people who are suffering from chronic pain. While this law is positive in combating the epidemic, it’s obviously not enough. If doctors can just turn around and prescribe millions of opioids to people who have long-term pain.

Farron Cousins: There are so many alternatives to opiates right now. In the case of a lot of people, not all of them, but a lot of people who do suffer from chronic pain, whether it’s from a car accident that leaves lingering permanent damage, there are things that can be fixed with physical therapy. There are things that can be fixed, episodes of chronic pain, with just minimal exercise a couple times a week. There are other non opiate pain killers out there available. There is medical marijuana cropping up that has been proven to actually get people off of opiates. I mean, in areas where marijuana has been legalized both recreationally and medicinally, the opiate use rate drops. So there are so many alternatives out there.

Doctors know about these, these pain clinics know about them, but they’re always, not every doctor, but you got too many out there and this story kind of confirms it, that we have too many out there who are in it for the money who want to make as much profit as possible. They want to work for this massive healthcare corporation instead of working for their patients, and that’s part of the problem with American healthcare today is that it’s all about profits and it’s no longer about caring and doing what is best for your patients. Brigida Santos, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine and a contributing writer at DeSmogBlog.com. He is the co-host / guest host for Ring of Fire Radio. His writings have appeared on Alternet, Truthout, and The Huffington Post. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009. Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced