Intermountain Healthcare to pay $1M settlement in drug case

Photos from Pixabay; composite image by St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY — In a case that federal officials are calling the largest settlement of its kind involving diversion of prescription drugs in Utah, Intermountain Healthcare has agreed to pay $1 million to resolve allegations that a former medical assistant illegally obtained thousands of painkillers and other pills for herself and family members.

Company spokesman Daron Crowley attributed the breach to a sophisticated scheme that was isolated to the company’s North Ogden clinic.

The civil settlement allows Intermountain Healthcare to resolve the case without acknowledging liability.

Crowley said the company cooperated fully with authorities and that the employee was terminated and criminally prosecuted.

The Drug Enforcement Administration investigated the case, which involved hundreds of prescriptions and approximately 58,000 pills.

In addition to the monetary settlement, Intermountain has implemented a comprehensive corrective action plan to prevent, identify and address future diversions.

“Under the law, health care networks such as IHC have a responsibility to ensure that controlled substances are used for patient care and are not diverted for non-medical purposes,” U.S. Attorney John W. Huber said in a statement Dec. 8. “Diversion of these drugs feeds addiction, contributes to potential illegal drug sales and fuels the opioid epidemic that has had a devastating effect on Utah and the rest of the country.”

The DEA investigation found that the former medical assistant of a doctor at the clinic used the physician’s DEA registration number to issue prescriptions to herself and two family members for oxycodone, diazepam, phentermine and hydrocodone.

“With the burgeoning opioid epidemic sweeping across the country and the great state of Utah, the DEA takes very seriously its responsibility to ensure the public’s safety in regard to the proper prescribing and dispensing of highly-addictive controlled substances made available to our communities through the health care industry,” DEA District Agent in Charge Brian S. Besser said.

The government alleged that 244 prescriptions of oxycodone (46,616 pills) were issued without a legitimate medical purpose and not in the course of the doctor’s professional practice. Another 151 prescriptions for controlled substances, totaling 11,430 pills, were also issued.

The pharmacy filled each of the prescriptions, which were picked up by the former medical assistant. The physician and the pharmacy shared equal responsibility for ensuring the proper prescribing and dispensing of the controlled substances, the government contended.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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