Physicians who write multiple prescriptions without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice are contributing to the deadly opioid epidemic in order to increase their profit.
A Texas doctor has been convicted of engaging in illegal activities involving the prescription of opioids. After an 8-day trial, U.S. Attorney Leigha Simonton successfully prosecuted the doctor on one count of conspiring to distribute a controlled substance and six counts of unlawfully dispensing a controlled substance.
A 58-year-old doctor who co-owned and operated Cumbre Medical Center, LLC in Dallas was convicted on Monday. The sentencing is pending for this individual.
On January 17, 2024, Cesar Pena-Rodriguez, a co-defendant in the legal case, pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute a controlled substance. It is worth noting that this plea occurred just five days before the scheduled trial. Cesar Pena-Rodriguez, who is 56 years old, will be sentenced on April 22, 2024. The court will then determine the appropriate legal consequences for his involvement in the aforementioned offense.
During the trial, it was revealed that the defendants had been selling prescriptions to undercover agents without any valid medical reasons. In a total of 24 visits, Dr. Mendez had issued these prescriptions without conducting thorough medical evaluations, often lasting only a few minutes. The undercover recordings provided evidence of a consistent pattern, with Dr. Mendez requesting specific medications by name without considering any pain or discomfort. Shockingly, Dr. Mendez even went as far as instructing the undercover officers on how to handle inquiries from law enforcement regarding these illegal prescriptions.
Understanding the opioid crisis
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Substance abuse can be a dangerous journey for individuals who are dealing with mental health issues or facing different challenges in life. The weight of stress, anxiety, depression, and feelings of being overwhelmed can greatly increase the chances of losing control over one’s alcohol and drug consumption. While these substances may offer temporary relief at first, the increase in substance use ultimately results in negative consequences.
The number of drug overdose deaths in 2021 has tragically increased more than six-fold compared to the figures recorded in 1999. Moreover, there has been a disturbing rise of over 16% in drug overdose fatalities from 2020 to 2021. What is particularly concerning is that opioids accounted for a staggering 75% of the approximate 107,000 drug overdose deaths in 2021. This distressing trend persisted throughout the year, underscoring the gravity of the situation.
Between 1999 and 2021, there has been a shocking number of deaths in the United States due to opioid-related overdoses. These incidents have claimed the lives of nearly 645,000 individuals. This heartbreaking loss of life spans over a period of two decades and is a result of the use of various opioids, including both legal prescription drugs and illicit substances.
There are three distinct waves that can be observed when it comes to the increase in fatalities caused by opioid overdoses.
- The first wave began with increased prescribing of opioids in the 1990s, with overdose deaths involving prescription opioids.
- The second wave began in 2010, with rapid increases in overdose deaths involving heroin.
- The third wave began in 2013, with significant increases in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, particularly those involving illicitly manufactured fentanyl. The market for illicitly manufactured fentanyl continues to change, and it can be found in combination with heroin, counterfeit pills, and cocaine.
Case study: The Texas physicians
Evidence presented during the trial revealed that the defendants engaged in the unlawful sale of prescriptions to undercover agents on 24 separate occasions, without any medical justification.
Dr. Mendez would often issue prescriptions without conducting thorough medical evaluations, some of which lasted only a few minutes. Hidden audio recordings exposed a consistent pattern of Dr. Mendez requesting specific medications by name without any mention of the patient’s pain or discomfort.
Dr. Mendez went as far as coaching the undercover officers on how to handle inquiries from law enforcement regarding the illicit prescriptions.
The trial brought to light the defendants’ involvement in the sale of prescriptions that were deemed medically unnecessary.
During the proceedings, it was revealed that Dr. Mendez had issued these prescriptions without conducting thorough medical evaluations. The evidence presented showed that the evaluations conducted by the doctor were brief and minimal, with some lasting only a minute.
The undercover officers diligently documented their visits, capturing every detail in both video and audio formats.
The officers were found to be consistently asking for particular medications in the recordings, without mentioning any pain or discomfort they were experiencing.
Dr. Mendez was found to have instructed the undercover officers, providing them with guidance on how to respond in the event that they were approached by law enforcement regarding the unauthorized prescriptions.
Dr. Mendez could potentially be sentenced to up to 140 years in federal prison, which translates to 20 years per count.