The owner of a North Philadelphia pharmacy has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison after being found guilty of charges relating to healthcare fraud and conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.
Mitchell Spivack, 63, owner of the Verree Pharmacy for over 30 years, filled so many prescriptions for the painkiller OxyContin that his pharmacy became known as a no-questions-asked pill mill. At one point, Verree ordered a higher quantity of the powerful, addictive drug than any other pharmacy in the United States.
The initial formulation of OxyContin was frequently crushed, then snorted or prepared for injection by the user. In 2010, however, the opioid was reformulated by its manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, making it more difficult to crush and, therefore, easier to abuse. When the new pills replaced the old ones, Verree Pharmacy's order for OxyContin plummeted to about half its typical quantity.
Additionally, Spivack defrauded the Medicare system by submitting false healthcare claims—sometimes labeling the paperwork “BBDF,” meaning “bill but don't fill”—to the tune of $450,000.
After being released from prison, Spivak will be subject to two years of supervised release. He is also ordered to pay $451,328 in restitution and to forfeit $116,000 in fines. Verree Pharmacy must pay $4.1 million in damages. Spivak is banned from ever dispensing controlled substances.
The Sobering Statistics
In 2021, 5,168 Pennsylvanians died from opioid overdoses. Despite the enormous amount of awareness-raising publicity—investigative reports, documentaries, books, PR campaigns, and government initiatives—ever since the opioid crisis was declared a public health emergency in 2017, the problem has persisted.
The Department of Health and Human Services reports that:
- Over 10 million people abuse prescription opioids each year in the U.S.
- Nearly 50,000 people died from overdosing on these medications in 2019
- Another 50,000 tried heroin for the first time, many after becoming addicted to prescription painkillers
- Over 14,000 Americas lost their lives because of a heroin overdose during the same time period
With numbers like these, it's understandable that U.S. law enforcement agencies are cracking down on dishonest doctors. Yet the issue isn't cut-and-dried since plenty of physicians recognize the value of these pain medications to their patients when used responsibly.
Erring on the Side of Caution—and Guilt
When it comes to dispensing opioids and other controlled substances, it can be difficult to determine a medical professional's intent; are they prescribing the drugs “knowingly or intentionally” to those who might abuse them? Or are they simply doing their job, writing prescriptions for patients who demonstrate a legitimate need? In the wake of the opioid crisis that continues to rage in the U.S., many prosecutors have chosen to err on the side of caution. Whenever the intent is in doubt, they proceed as though the pharmaceutical provider is guilty.
Getting caught up wrongly in this widely cast net can be a nightmare for an upstanding, responsible medical professional. If it's happened to you, click here to contact the Lento Law Firm. Attorney Joseph D. Lento will work tirelessly to ensure that you're not presumed guilty until proven otherwise. Call 888-535-8636 to set up a consultation or to ask any questions you might have.