AG Healey Takes Action Against Hyannis Physician for Illegally Prescribing Opioids
Dr. Mohammad Nassery Allegedly Wrote Unnecessary Oxycodone Prescriptions to At-Risk Patients; Case Reflects AG Healey’s Comprehensive Efforts Against Opiate Epidemic
BOSTON – Delivering on her promise to tackle the opioid and heroin epidemic from all angles, Attorney General Maura Healey announced today that a Hyannis physician has been indicted for illegally prescribing opioids and defrauding the state’s Medicaid program (MassHealth).
Dr. Mohammad Nassery, 63, a doctor who practiced at Ariana Pediatric Neurology in Hyannis, was indicted Friday by a grand jury in Barnstable Superior Court on charges of Illegal Prescribing (11 counts), Medicaid False Claims (9 counts), and Larceny over $250 (1 count). He will be arraigned at a later date. As a result of these charges, Nassery has entered into an agreement with the state medical board to no longer practice medicine.
“Physicians have a responsibility to care for their patients and keep them safe and healthy. Our investigation revealed that Dr. Nassery violated that trust by writing prescriptions he knew were medically unnecessary and providing powerful painkillers to people with documented substance abuse problems,” AG Healey said. “Through a partnership with the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, we are proactively working to ensure that Dr. Nassery’s patients are notified about this case and referred for proper care and treatment by other medical professionals. Our office is committed to ending practices that fuel the disease of addiction and ruin lives.”
Medical records indicated that Nassery continued to prescribe oxycodone – determined to have a high potential for abuse – and other oxycodone-based medications (such as Percocet) to patients despite their documented substance abuse, and after learning that some patients were concurrently enrolled in substance abuse treatment programs or were receiving opioids from other prescribers. Each illegal prescription Nassery wrote allegedly caused pharmacies to unwittingly falsely bill MassHealth for the medication.
Investigators determined that Nassery allegedly insisted on urine-drug screens and MRI tests before prescribing a controlled substance as a “cover” for his unlawful practices. In many cases, Nassery would continue to prescribe oxycodone and other oxycodone-based drugs, despite the fact that some patients were not getting urine tests as directed or urine tests showed that patients were not taking medications as directed.
In addition to the claims of illegal prescribing, the AG’s Office alleges that Nassery billed MassHealth for medically unnecessary or overstated services by charging for simple office visits using a billing code reserved for comprehensive medical exams and complex medical decision-making. As a result, MassHealth paid a higher rate than warranted for the office visits.
AG Healey and Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders are also working closely with the medical community to ensure the development of safer prescribing and patient education practices. In Massachusetts, 4 out of 5 heroin users began with prescription drugs. While the United States is home to less than 5 percent of the world’s population, its residents consume about 80 percent of the world’s opioid supply.
This case is just one way Attorney General Healey is working to address the growing addiction crisis in Massachusetts. The AG’s Office is looking at a host of other practices, from marketing by pharmaceutical companies, to dispensing by pharmacies, to pill diversion and drug trafficking by criminal entities, to coverage for substance abuse treatment by insurance companies. AG Healey is also working on solutions, including making Narcan, the life-saving overdose reversal drug, more affordable and more widely available, eliminating barriers to treatment, and supporting prevention and education initiatives across the state.
Recent actions under AG Healey’s leadership include:
Improving access to treatment
- In April, AG Healey sued The Center for Psychiatric Medicine in North Andover for unlawfully profiting off of patients seeking treatment for opiate addiction, charging hundreds of dollars in cash per visit and allowing them to avoid counseling services.
- The AG’s Office is investigating similar allegations at other Suboxone treatment locations in Massachusetts to continue removing illegal barriers to addiction treatment and ensure access to care for opioid dependency for all patients in need.
- In April, AG Healey demanded accountability from Philadelphia Insurance following its refusal to provide insurance coverage for drug treatment centers that shut down in the wake of the Long Island Bridge closing in Boston.
Affordability of Narcan
- AG Healey has demanded explanations for significant price spikes in the life-saving overdose reversal drug naloxone (Narcan) from Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, the company that produces the widely used nasal spray version of the drug, and from the major distributors of the drug in Massachusetts. AG Healey is in ongoing conversations with those companies.
Prevention and education
- The AG’s Office is supporting preventative education initiatives across the state – for young people and their parents, for doctors and other prescribers, for pharmacists, and for those at risk of becoming addicted. In May, AG Healey is co-sponsoring a conference on drug prevention for young people.
- The AG’s Office is working to publicize the existence of the Good Samaritan Law, to encourage people to call 911 when they witness an overdose and to let them know that they won’t be prosecuted. In May, representatives from the AG’s Office will present on the Good Samaritan Law at community forums in Wilmington and Worcester.
- The AG’s Office is supporting state legislation to address the opiate crisis, and meeting with both state and federal lawmakers to identify opportunities for funding and comprehensive solutions.
- The AG’s Office is working closely with Secretary Sudders, the Department of Public Health, and other members of Governor Baker’s Opioid Addiction Working Group on recommendations to address this public health crisis.
- Last week two Lawrence men were arraigned in connection with an extensive heroin trafficking operation, in which more than $1 million of heroin was seized.
- In April, two Boston men were arrested in connection with trafficking heroin after search warrants were executed in Dorchester and Roxbury and more than 130 grams of heroin were seized.
- In March, the AG’s Office indicted a Dorchester man and woman in connection with heroin trafficking.
- In January, the AG’s Office arrested and charged Naman Spencer for his involvement in an alleged scheme to use fraudulent prescriptions to illegally obtain Oxycodone tablets. The AG’s Office discovered Spencer’s alleged illegal activities through their investigation into Vincent Leo, who was indicted on more than 100 counts of prescription and credit card fraud and identity theft in November 2014. Leo allegedly created hundreds of fraudulent prescriptions in order to obtain oxycodone tablets.
Assistant Attorney General Joshua Orr is prosecuting the case against Dr. Nassery, which was investigated by Medicaid Fraud Division Investigator Chris Cecchini, the Massachusetts State Police, the Boston Task Force of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the DEA’s New England Office of Diversion Control, the Marshfield Police Department and the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine. MassHealth and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General assisted in the investigation.