A Las Vegas pain management physician was arrested Tuesday, Feb. 13, and charged with 29 counts of unlawful distribution of a potent opioid drug and health care fraud.
The U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) said it leveled the charges against Dr. Steven A. Holper, 66. Seven of the 29 charges allege the doctor prescribed the opioid Subsys (fentanyl sublingual spray), outside his professional practice to people who had no medical need for the drug.
According to the DOJ, Dr. Holper “routinely prescribed Subsys for his patients without cancer.”
The remaining charges involve Dr. Holper’s alleged false statements to Medicare and private health insurance companies. The DOJ says that Dr. Holper prescribed the opioid drug Subsys for patients without cancer and “falsely represented 22 patients were cancer patients with breakthrough cancer pain, who were opioid tolerant and eligible for Subsys.”
Subsys and other forms of fentanyl are extremely powerful synthetic opioid painkillers that are 100 times more potent than morphine and 40 to 60 times more potent than 100 percent pure heroin.
The only FDA-approved uses for Subsys and other fentanyl opioids are for the management of breakthrough pain in adults with cancer.
The U.S. alleges Dr. Holper’s illegal activity occurred from about July 19, 2015, through March 12, 2016.
The statutory maximum penalty for distribution of a controlled substance is 20 years in prison and the maximum penalty for health care fraud is 10 years in prison.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the U.S. “has never before seen the levels of addiction and overdose deaths that we are suffering today” because of synthetic opioid drugs.
“Sadly, some trusted medical professionals like doctors, nurses, and pharmacists have chosen to violate their oaths and exploit this crisis for cash—with devastating consequences,” Sessions said.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Arron C. Rouse said that the accessibility of fentanyl and other opioid drugs is a threat to communities in Las Vegas as it is across the country. “Each and every day, the FBI and our partners in Nevada are working hard targeting distributors, who are consciously contributing to the appalling opioid crisis that is inflicting mayhem in neighborhoods all over the state of Nevada,” he said.