Some forms of healthcare fraud involve complicated financial schemes. Other forms focus more tightly on the provision of medical treatment and couple fraud with poor patient care. While we strongly believe both forms hurt patients, the latter presents a more direct danger to patients, one that is of grave concern to our Panama City medical malpractice attorney. Doctors who encourage the misuse and abuse or prescription medicines, particularly painkillers, are putting lives at risk. These cases can result in major criminal trials (including some initiated based on details provided by whistleblowers), but individual patients harmed by physician misconduct should contact legal representation.
A guilty plea was entered on Tuesday in a criminal trial against a Walton County doctor who had tried quite hard to avoid a court-ordered new trial, even faking his own death, according to WJHG. The underlying allegations involve the 2001 to 2005 time frame, a time when defendant Dr. Robert Ignasiak Jr. ran the Freeport Medical Clinic. Allegations from the U.S. Attorney's Office suggest Ignasiak prescribed prescription painkillers in amounts (both dosage and quantity) and combinations that led to patients abusing/misusing the medicines and becoming addicted to the pills.
Dr. Ignasiak continued to prescribe these medications, even after becoming aware that patients were abusing them, ignoring indications that patients were stealing drugs, failing to take medications as directed, combining the prescriptions with alcohol, "doctor shopping" to get more medication, and even (though perhaps not surprisingly given the foregoing) suffering overdoses.
In 2008, a federal court found the doctor guilty on counts of over-prescribing pain medications and operating a pill mill. After serving 2 years out of a 24-year sentence, an appeals court overturned the 2008 decision and released Dr. Ignasiak to await a new trial. On November 3, 2012, the doctor's family told authorities that he was missing. Deputies discovered Dr. Ignasiak's abandoned vehicle in Seagrove Beach later that day. Inside, they found blood and a suicide note. Federal authorities felt the scene was suspicious and put out a warrant for Dr. Ignasiak's arrest. Nearly a year later, he was arrested in Coral Springs where he was distributing advertising leaflets for a pressure washing company and using a fake name.
This week, Dr. Ignasiak pled guilty to a single count of failing to appear, 12 counts of healthcare fraud, and 29 counts involving the illegal distribution of controlled substances. Sentencing will occur on January 14 and could include maximum prison terms of 10 years for the fraud charges, 10 years for his failure to appear in court, and 20 years on the drug distribution counts.
Doctors should be on the frontlines of the effort to prevent prescription abuse, not fueling a growing threat. According to the Center for Disease Control, the number of drug overdose deaths has more than tripled since 1999, with over 36,000 people dying from overdoses in 2008. Most of these cases involved prescription medicines, with painkillers causing nearly 75% of prescription drug deaths for a total of 14,800 fatalities in 2008 (more than cocaine and heroin combined). Further, prescription painkiller abuse accounted for more than 475,000 emergency room visits in 2009, double the number from just five years earlier.
Doctors are in a position of trust. Choosing to abuse that trust is a serious matter with financial and health repercussions. The cases may result in a wide range of criminal and civil charges, including fraud and medical malpractice. Many of these claims have very specific procedural requirements. If a doctor's malfeasance caused you or a loved one harm (up to and including death), please call our Panama City medical injury lawyer. Calling promptly is key, although the law does understand that medical injuries may take time to manifest.