Healthcare Business News

'Dr. Hazmat' charged for allegedly working for pill mill operation

By Joe Carlson
Posted: March 5, 2013 - 11:30 am ET

A Georgia physician known as “Dr. Hazmat” has been charged with illegally dispensing addictive prescription painkillers after authorities accused him of working for a “pill mill” operation that had roots in South Florida.

The grand jury indictment against Dr. Najam Azmat (PDF) says the alleged pill mill, which was called East Health Center, was established in Garden City, Ga., after Florida lawmakers tightened the laws on controlled substances like oxycodone.

Azmat was ordered to remain in jail without bail on 53 counts of unlawful dispensation of controlled substances, conspiracy to distribute the drugs, maintaining a drug-involved premises, and conspiracy to launder the proceeds of the illegal operation.

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Five other people were also charged with running the operation, including the receptionist, but Azmat was the only individual with medical training who was charged in the conspiracy, the indictment says.

Investigators say organizers of the clinic were first involved with pill mills in Margate and Boca Raton, Fla., starting in 2009. In December 2010, the indictment says, the conspirators at the Georgia clinic got together and discussed opening a clinic north of Florida “in part because the Georgia laws dealing with pain clinics were less restrictive than those newly enacted in Florida and because it would be closer to their customer base.”

Between February and May 2011, the organization allegedly prescribed more than 4 million milligrams of oxycodone to more than 480 “patients” who lived outside Georgia, including more than 130 from Kentucky, 50 from North Carolina, 30 from South Carolina, and 80 from Florida.

Prosecutors say the conspirators hired medical doctors and paid them cash daily in exchange for writing prescriptions for controlled substances that were not medically necessary. New customers at the clinic were typically required to pay $250 to $350 upfront, usually in cash, though discounts were given for repeat business.

“In order to create an appearance of legitimacy, new 'patients' at the clinics were required to obtain or furnish MRI reports before being allowed to be seen by a doctor,” the indictment says. “Members of the conspiracy encouraged and accepted 'sponsors' who brought one or more 'patients' to subject pain clinics and paid for the patients' MRIs and all pain clinic fees in exchange for receiving all or a portion of the 'patient's' prescription medications.”

On Feb. 26, Azmat heard the charges against him read in court and had a lawyer, David Burns Jr., appointed to represent him, according to records in U.S. District Court in Savannah. Burns could not be reached for comment.

A news release from the Drug Enforcement Administration says the government is seeking forfeiture of $365,000, which is how much the alleged conspiracy collected for those months in 2011.

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