A federal grand jury has indicted a former Pittsburgh-area physician on 121 counts for illegally distributing opioids, health care fraud and money laundering.
Prosecutors say Andrzej Zielke of Allison Park created unlawful prescriptions for oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine sulfate and methadone for patients to fill at pharmacies.
At least one of Zielke’s patients died of an overdose, and prosecutors say others became so dependent on oxycodone and other opioids they would crowd his Gibsonia office, sometimes sleeping in the waiting room.
U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said the doctor ran an extensive opioid prescribing operation out of three total offices.
“We're talking about tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of prescription medications that were illegally prescribed to hundreds of patients,” he said.
Zielke was arrested last October on a criminal complaint and charged with 13 related counts in November. His indictment in October was the first by a nationwide group of federal law enforcement officials that, armed with new access to a broader array of prescription drug databases, Medicaid and Medicare figures, coroners’ records and other numbers compiled by the Justice Department, aims to stop fraudulent doctors faster than before.
The department is providing a trove of data to the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, which draws together authorities in 12 regions across the country, that shows which doctors are prescribing the most, how far patients will travel to see them and whether any have died within 60 days of receiving one of their prescriptions, among other information.
Zielke denied he was overprescribing, telling the Associated Press he practiced alternative medicine and many of his patients stopped seeing him when he cut down on pain pills.
U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said the Department of Justice will continue to pursue medical professionals who contribute to the opioid crisis.
"The opioid crisis has blown up through not only increased availability of more pure heroin and fentanyl at a cheaper price, but also through medical practices of unscrupulous doctors," Brady said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
*This post was updated at 4:16 p.m. on Aug. 1, 2018 to include comments from U.S. Attorney Scott Brady.