A cardiologist based in Elko, Nevada, pleaded guilty Nov. 26 to prescribing two highly addictive drugs—oxycodone and hydrocodone—to patients over a five-month period without legitimate medical reasons, U.S. Attorney Dayle Elieson announced.
In a release, Elieson said 59-year-old Devendra I. Patel, also known as Devendrakumar I. Patel, “contributed to the opioid epidemic by unlawfully prescribing opioids and other prescription narcotics to patients for financial gain.” As part of his plea, the doctor admitted he’d needlessly prescribed drugs like OxyContin and Norco to patients who visited his clinic, Northeastern Nevada Cardiology, between September 2015 and February 2016.
“Patel’s prescribing practices allowed him to see a high volume of patients and easily prescribe and sell the opioids, while not addressing any legitimate medical concerns of his patients,” Elieson wrote.
According to an Associated Press report, Patel was the first doctor in Nevada to face criminal drug distribution and healthcare fraud charges under the recently formed Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, which aims to prosecute physicians who unlawfully prescribe addictive opioids to patients with no medical backup.
“Our country is in the midst of a devastating opioid crisis, and the DEA is using every resource available to identify the traffickers and facilitators fueling addiction in our communities,” DEA Special Agent in Charge David J. Downing said at the time of Patel’s arrest. “Healthcare 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.”
The CDC estimates 115 Americans die each day from an opioid-related overdose, and there were 408 opioid-related deaths in Nevada alone in 2016, the year Patel was writing faulty prescriptions. That same year, the state’s per capita prescription rate for opioids was 87 per 100 residents.
Patel was first arrested last December, at which point his medical license was suspended. He’s expected to appear in court for sentencing March 18, 2019, and faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine for his actions.