U.S. v. Aggarwal
Pain Management Specialist
Two physicians were charged with unlawfully prescribing Suboxone while working at Redirections Treatment Advocates (RTA) in Weirton, West Virginia. Based on our specific experience in defending addiction medicine providers and Suboxone, Ronald W. Chapman II was asked to join the trial team on this case and other companion cases.
RTA utilized a model of treatment called the West Virginia Model, which was developed by physicians at West Virginia University. This model was designed to expand access to treatment by having physicians present in group therapy appointments, as opposed to direct interaction during every patient appointment. Patients would undergo a thorough initial examination prior to induction in the program, but they would not see a physician on an individual face-to-face visit unless either the patient or physician thought it was necessary. Patients would receive their prescription weekly or monthly, depending on compliance with the program. The model allowed doctors to treat more patients using Suboxone while still ensuring that patients received the counseling and medication they need to stay off powerfully addictive painkillers. The clinic had multiple locations in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Pittsburgh and West Virginia began investigating the clinic in 2016. Instead of meeting with the owner and discussing compliance issues, the government utilized a multiagency task force involving the FBI, DEA, and local police to investigate the clinics. The government used undercover officers posing as patients and an undercover informant who was employed at the practice to further their investigation. Agents also obtained cellphone data and used location monitoring to establish their case.
In 2018, RTA was raided, and a number of physicians were charged with unlawful distribution. The indictment was based on the DOJ’s mistaken impression that Suboxone is the same as oxycodone and requires face-to-face patient interaction before a prescription can be issued. Three other physicians and the clinic owner elected to retain defense counsel not experienced in addiction treatment and subsequently pleaded guilty.
Our client remained steadfast in his innocence, and we knew that the model used by the clinic was defensible. Our defense was robust and based on the medical support available for this model of treatment. We filed pre-trial motions defining the standard to be applied in this case.
In addition, we retained an expert addiction medicine physician from Harvard University, who prepared his support of the clinic; we created charts that showed the patients were properly monitored; and we presented SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) guidance to the jury. Moreover, we thoroughly cross-examined the government’s “expert,” who ceased practicing medicine four years ago; had never practiced addiction medicine; and used his own subjective standard to apply to the case. We were able to retain a handwriting expert who was able to show that many prescriptions issued at the clinic were forgeries.
In closing, we presented a tightly woven defense that insulated our defendant from a conviction by clearly showing the jury that the model used by the clinic was not only the “practice of medicine,” but also a vital component needed to combat the opioid epidemic.
Our in-depth knowledge of medicine — more specifically, addiction medicine — allowed our client to have the best possible chance at acquittal. As a result of our pre-trial preparation and trial presentation, after a two-week jury trial, our client was acquitted of all counts of unlawful drug distribution and conspiracy.
We are pleased that our client was able to return to his family and the practice of medicine unscathed by this indictment.
Area of Law:
Federal Criminal Defense
“Weirton physicians acquitted of drug charges” (WTRF); “Two Pittsburgh-area doctors acquitted in federal addiction clinic fraud trial in West Virginia” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette); “Two Weirton doctors found not guilty on drug charges” (WTOV)
Disclaimer: This information is a sample of our past results. Prospective clients may not obtain the same or similar results. Every case is different and each case must be evaluated and handled on its own merits. The circumstances of your case may differ from the results provided. The information provided has not been reviewed or approved by the State Bar.