National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on October 23, 2021
Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office and DEA Highlight Efforts in Fight Against Opioid Abuse
Baltimore, MD (STL.News) United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron and Special Agent in Charge Jarod Forget of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Washington Division are teaming up to publicize the Drug Enforcement Administration’s 20th National Prescription Drug Take Back Day being held in Maryland and across the country on Saturday, October 23, 2021. The service is free and anonymous. Maryland has approximately 100 available sites. The public can find a nearby collection site at www.DEATakeBack.com or by calling 800-882-9539. The nationwide event aims to provide a safe, convenient, and responsible means of disposing of prescription drugs and educating the general public about the potential for abuse of medications.
Maryland U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron will be participating with DEA and other federal, state, and local law enforcement officials at the Wilde Lake Village Center event in Columbia, Maryland, sponsored by HC DrugFree and the Howard County Police Department. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“Over the pandemic we have seen a sharp increase in overdose deaths, and the path to opioid abuse can begin in the home with unused prescription drugs,” said U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron. “I encourage all Marylanders to get rid of the unused and unneeded prescription drugs in their homes by participating in DEA’s Prescription Drug Take Back Day to find a collection site near them to take advantage of this free and anonymous service. Proper disposal of unused and unneeded prescription drugs will help prevent drug abuse and opioid addiction.”
“This initiative addresses a vital public safety and public health issue in our area,” said Jarod Forget, Special Agent in Charge of DEA Washington Division. “Our Take Back Day events highlight the problems associated with prescription drug abuse and give area residents an opportunity to contribute to the solution. With these efforts and the efforts from our incredible partners across Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C., we are helping to combat the opioid and overdose epidemics and keeping our area families safe.”
Rates of prescription drug abuse in the United States are alarmingly high, as are the number of accidental poisonings and overdoses due to these drugs. Studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet.
Collection sites will adhere to local COVID-19 guidelines and regulations in order to maintain the safety of all participants and local law enforcement.
Given the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency, DEA wants to ensure that the public is aware of other ways they can dispose of unwanted prescription drugs without having to leave their homes. Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have tips on how to safely dispose of drugs at home.
In addition to DEA’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, prescription drugs can be disposed of at any of the 11,000 DEA authorized collectors at any time throughout the year, and at many local law enforcement agency sites.
DEA and our state and local partners throughout the area will collect tablets, capsules, patches, and other solid forms. DEA will also accept vape pens or other e-cigarette devices from individual consumers, only after the batteries are removed from the devices . If the battery cannot be removed, individual consumers can check with large electronic chain stores who may accept the vape pen or e-cigarette devices for proper disposal. Liquids, including intravenous solutions, syringes and other sharps, and illegal drugs cannot be dropped off. This service is free and anonymous, no questions asked.
Recent Federal Prosecution of Opioid Cases
United States v. Jacob Leister: On December 3, 2020, Jacob Leister was sentenced to 51 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, after Leister pleaded guilty to distribution of fentanyl and Alprazolam. Leister was also ordered to forfeit $15,400 in the form of a money judgment, which represents the net proceeds of his sale of drugs to an undercover officer. According to his guilty plea, from December 2018 through September 2019, Leister sold purported prescription pills, including Oxycodone and Alprazolam, to an undercover law enforcement officer on several occasions.
Subsequent lab testing found that the purported Oxycodone contained at least 56 grams of a mixture containing fentanyl, 708 pills contained Alprazolam, and 600 pills contained a substance similar to Alprazolam, but that is not a controlled substance. Law enforcement executed a search warrant on Leister’s residence on November 21, 2019 and recovered a number of computers, three firearms and ammunition and magazines for the firearms. Searches of the computers revealed, among other things, information and photographs about bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and cryptocurrency exchanges and information about dark web marketplaces, where individuals can purchase drugs.
United States v. Joyce Edwards et al: On March 3, 2021, a federal grand jury indicted the owner and operator of a purported pain management clinic, as well as two nurse practitioners who were employed at the clinic, on the federal charges for conspiracy to distribute and dispense oxycodone and for distribution and dispensing of oxycodone. Charged in the indictment are: Joyce Shawanda Edwards, Justina Aburime, and Thomas Charles Johnson, Jr. Edwards owned and operated Personal Touch Medical Spa, LLP (“PTMS”), formerly known as Holistic Health and Wellness Medical Spa LLP, a purported “pain management” clinic located in Largo, Maryland, which the indictment alleges was, in reality, a “pill mill.” A pill mill is a health care provider’s office, clinic, or health care facility that routinely prescribes and dispenses controlled substances outside the scope of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose.
Aburime and Johnson were nurse practitioners who worked at PTMS and both were authorized to prescribe controlled substances for legitimate medical purposes. The indictment alleges that Edwards, Aburime, and Johnson distributed and dispensed oxycodone that was not prescribed for a medical purpose or in the usual course of professional practice. The indictment alleges that Aburime and Johnson pre-signed blank prescriptions, allowing Edwards to issue prescriptions for oxycodone under their names, even though she was not authorized to issue prescriptions.
Further, the indictment alleges that, to create the false appearance that PTMS provided other treatment options to controlled substances, PTMS directed customers to physical therapy and provided massages. The indictment also seeks the forfeiture of approximately $278,951.72, seized on July 11, 2019, after the execution of seizure warrants on bank accounts held in the name of Personal Touch Medical Spa, LLP.
United States v. David Robinson: On March 4, 2021, David Robinson was sentenced to 171 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for the federal charges of conspiracy to distribute oxycodone and alprazolam and for murder for hire. Robinson, formerly a licensed pharmacist who owned and operated the Frankford Family Pharmacy, located in the 5400 block of Sinclair Lane in Baltimore pleaded guilty on October 10, 2018, to a federal drug conspiracy involving the distribution of oxycodone and alprazolam outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose. On December 17, 2020, Robinson pleaded guilty to a federal charge of murder for hire, admitting that he ordered a “hit” on the person he believed had cooperated with law enforcement that led to his indictment on those charges. Robinson’s pharmacist license was suspended on August 7, 2017.
United States v. Monica Raynette Clark et al: On May 17, 2021, a criminal complaint was filed charging the manager of a pain clinic, her boyfriend, and several customers with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, including oxycodone and oxymorphone. The defendants charged in the criminal complaint are: Monica Raynette Clark; Michael Tyrone Scott III; Larry Nathaniel Waller; Mildred Taylor; Jason James Johnson; and Lisa Ann Lewis.
According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, law enforcement obtained evidence that drug trafficking was occurring at two pain clinics—Memorial Care Center, located in Woodbridge, Virginia (“Memorial Care”) and Washington DC Spine Center (“WDC Spine”), which closed in August 2019.
Clark was employed as the office manager of Memorial Care and was previously the office manager of WDC Spine. Clark was not a physician and did not have a Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) registration number. The criminal complaint alleges that Clark forged prescriptions for opioids using prescription pads from the clinics’ doctors, then illegally sold the forged opioid prescriptions to opioid users and diverters, including customers who live in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, such as Waller, Taylor, Johnson, and Lewis.
Clark is allegedly in a romantic relationship with Scott, who assists Clark in selling the forged prescriptions. To evade scrutiny by law enforcement, Clark allegedly used several different phones to sell prescriptions and instructed customers to use specific pharmacies to fill prescriptions. The criminal complaint further alleges that Clark instructed an undercover agent to claim a fictious work injury in order to receive a professional recommendation for opioid use and that Clark later arranged to sell forged prescriptions to the undercover agent.
United States v. Howard Hoffberg: On June 9, 2021, Howard Hoffberg, M.D., pleaded guilty to the federal charge of conspiracy to violate the anti-kickback statutes, in connection with a scheme to accept payments from a pharmaceutical company in exchange for prescribing a drug the company marketed for breakthrough pain in cancer patients for off-label purposes.
Hoffberg, is a doctor and was licensed to practice medicine in the State of Maryland. He served as the Associate Medical Director and part-owner of Rosen-Hoffberg Rehabilitation and Pain Management (the “Practice”). Starting in June 2012, Hoffberg solicited and received kickbacks and bribes for himself in the form of payments from Insys Therapeutics, Inc. (“Insys”) (a pharmaceutical company) and related entities. In January 2012, the FDA approved Insys’s application to sell and market a Transmucosal Immediate Release Fentanyl (“TIRF”) drug named Subsys to treat cancer patients experiencing break-through pain, which is a sudden onset of pain in cancer patients that cannot be controlled with their usual treatment regimen.
Subsys is a potent opioid designed to rapidly enter a patient’s bloodstream upon being sprayed under the tongue. Subsys contains fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid pain reliever that has a high potential for abuse and addiction. Because of the limited number of cancer patients experiencing breakthrough pain who fit the FDA-approved criteria, Insys devised an illegal kickback and bribery scheme to induce Hoffberg and others to prescribe Subsys off-label for conditions other than breakthrough pain in cancer patients.
United States v. William Soyke: On August 26, 2021, William Soyke, was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for conspiracy to distribute and dispense oxycodone, fentanyl, methadone, and alprazolam outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose.
Sokye was employed as a physician assistant with Drs. Rosen and Hoffberg from 2011 to 2018, where he treated patients during follow-up doctor appointments. As a physician assistant, Soyke had privileges to prescribe controlled substance medications but was required to operate under a delegation agreement between himself and the Rosen Hoffberg owners. Sokye was aware that many of the patients presenting to Rosen Hoffberg did not have a legitimate medical need for the oxycodone, fentanyl, alprazolam, and methadone they were being prescribed. Nevertheless, Soyke issued prescriptions for these drugs to patients without a legitimate medical need and outside the bounds of acceptable medical practice.
Soyke also admitted that in several instances he engaged in sexual, physical contact with female patients who were attempting to get prescriptions. Specifically, Soyke asked some female customers to engage in a range of motion test, and while they were bending over, he would position himself behind them such that his genitalia would rub against the customers’ buttocks through their clothes. These patients often acceded to this sexual abuse for fear of not getting the medications to which they were addicted.
Federal Grant Funding
In 2020, over $2.3 million in federal grant funding was awarded to the state of Maryland to assist efforts to combat opioid abuse.
The Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) for State Prisoners Program assists states and local governments to develop and implement substance abuse treatment programs in state and local correctional and detention facilities and to create and maintain community-based aftercare services for offenders. The goal of the RSAT Program is to break the cycle of drugs and violence by reducing the demand for, use, and trafficking of illegal drugs.
RSAT enhances the capability of states and units of local government to provide residential substance abuse treatment for incarcerated inmates; prepares offenders for their reintegration into the communities from which they came by incorporating reentry planning activities into treatment programs; and assists offenders and their communities through the reentry process through the delivery of community-based treatment and other broad-based aftercare services.
The Harold Rogers Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) enhances the capacity of regulatory and law enforcement agencies and public health officials to collect and analyze controlled substance prescription data and other scheduled chemical products. The PDMP helps Maryland and its local governments to detect and prevent the diversion and abuse of opioids and other prescription drugs.