Federal authorities arrested a Nevada cardiologist Dec. 12 on dozens of charges related to the unlawful distribution of prescription opioids and health care fraud.
Dr. Devendrakumar I. Patel, 58, faces 36 counts of distribution of controlled substances, including fentanyl, hydrocodone, and oxycodone, and three counts of health care fraud for allegedly billing Medicare and Medicaid for costly tests that he never provided. Dr. Patel is a cardiologist at Northeastern Nevada Cardiology in Elko, a practice that he owns.
Dr. Patel is the first person in Nevada to be charged for illegal distribution of opioid drugs since the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) launched its Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit last summer. The special unit combines the resources of several federal agencies and personnel to combat the opioid epidemic that has gripped communities throughout the U.S. in recent years.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the 39-count indictment alleges that Dr. Patel routinely prescribed fentanyl, hydrocodone, and oxycodone for his patients without a legitimate medical purpose and that he fraudulently billed Medicare and Medicaid for medical tests that he did not perform.
For instance, the indictment alleges that Dr. Patel performed EKGs on his patients so he could then order nuclear stress tests, which he never administered. Federal prosecutors say that he also used a poorly calibrated machine and presented his patients with fraudulent X-Rays with the intent of deceiving them into thinking they had heart problems that required treatment by him.
“My husband had a Nuclear scan in his office and this charlatan showed me a scan with a multitude of blockages explaining that my husband’s heart … needed IMMEDIATE attention,” the wife of a former patient says in an online review of Dr. Patel’s practice. “But the thing was, it was NOT my husband’s name or info on the scan tape, it was an elderly woman’s exam! When I pointed it out, he claimed my husband’s scan was just as bad, bull.”
The maximum penalty for distribution of a controlled substance is 10 years in prison. The maximum penalty for health care fraud is also 10 years in prison.
More than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016, most of which were related to fentanyl and other illicit opioids. Federal authorities say that one American dies every nine minutes as result of opioid overdose.
“Our Country is in the midst of a devastating opioid crisis and DEA is using every resource available to identify the traffickers and facilitators fueling addiction in our communities,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Downing, who helped prosecuted the case. “Health care professionals who abuse the public’s trust and prescribe or dispense drugs purely for profit are drug dealers, and they’re going to be held accountable.”