Peters doctor pleads to health fraud, prescription abuse
Federal prosecutors said the death of a Wilkinsburg man factored into a plea bargain that will send a Peters physician to prison for more than 11 years. "That's an unusually long sentence for a doctor," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Kaufman. Relatives of Ira Gray Jr. appeared in federal court today as Dr. Oliver W. Herndon, 40, pled guilty to prescription drug abuse and health care fraud. Herndon and his lawyer, Roger Cox, declined comment after the hearing. Herndon remains free on a $50,000 bond. Prosecutors and Herndon agreed to the sentence of 11 years and 3 months, which is the maximum recommended by sentencing federal guidelines. U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab scheduled Herndon's sentencing for Sept. 24. Gray, 23, died in Silver Spring, Md. An autopsy determined he died of oxycodone toxicity, and his death was ruled an accident, according to the Maryland Chief Medical Examiner's Office. Gilbert Stubbs, Gray's uncle, and Patricia Bogle, Gray's mother, believe he died because of the combination of oxycodone and his sleep apnea. "My son died in his sleep," Bogle said after the hearing. She said she agrees with Herndon's sentence "as long as he's going to do some time and is going to lose his license." Bogle said her son injured his leg a couple of years ago when it was crushed between two cars. At the time of the injury, the treating physician only prescribed Percoset for the pain, she said. Gray had told her he had gone to a doctor to get more painkillers, but not that he was taking oxycodone, she said. U.S. Attorney David Hickton held a press conference this afternoon to announce that his office and other federal, state and local agencies are increasing their focus on prescription drug abuse. "Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, technicians and traffickers should all be on notice. If you are illegally prescribing, dispensing or distributing prescription pain medication, we are coming after you," he said.
Brett Pritts, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the Herndon bust reduced the availability of painkillers on the street because the street price of oxycodone in Western Pennsylvania has jumped from $20 to $40 per pill since his arrest.The 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and health shows that about 2 1⁄2 times more Americans abuse prescription drugs than the combined number for people using illegal narcotics, he said. Hickton said most of the addicts are in their teens and early 20s and don't realized the risk they're taking. "That young people consider prescription drugs abuse a ‘low risk' is disturbing," he said. "And the fact that the majority of those 12 and older who abused pain relievers in the past have received them from friends and family for free, including from their home medicine cabinets, should be cause for outrage." Hickton said area agencies plan to hold a summit on prescription abuse, tentatively scheduled for June 27 at Washington & Jefferson College. Kaufman said the one-year investigation into Herndon started with pharmacists complaining about the number and strength of the painkillers Herndon was prescribing. About 87 of 128 pharmacies contacted in Western Pennsylvania had stopped filling prescriptions from Herndon, he said. Most of Herndon's patients were in their 20s or 30s, and "many appeared to be strung out or stoned," Kaufman said. Herndon saw 80 to 130 patients daily and, when his office was located in West Mifflin, added two waiting rooms to accommodate the crowds, Kaufman said. The health care fraud charge is based on insurers paying claims for people who didn't need the painkillers, he said. As part of the plea agreement, Herndon agrees that insurers paid out $400,000 to $1 million in fraudulent claims, Kaufman said. Herndon also agrees that he prescribed about 10,800 oxycodone tablets, at an average strength of 30 milligrams, and 3,600 oxymorphone tablets at an average strength of 40 milligrams, Kaufman said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- 2 dead in New Kensington shooting
- Rossi: Blount brings back Steelers’ swagger
- Steelers re-sign Keisel to bolster depth on defensive line
- Steelers are hoping to mirror Eagles’ full-bore, no-huddle offense
- Run game not primary focal point for Steelers
- Lightning causes 2 fires as storm rattles Western Pa.
- Victims sue Oakdale bar, gunman, mother in fatal shooting
- All Pittsburgh Public Schools students to get free lunches starting this year.
- Pitt, Penn State face competition for ticket sales
- CF McCutchen returns to lineup, but Braves blast fast-fading Pirates
- Pittsburgh restaurants vie for title at Taste of the Championships