According to news reports, a former radiologist from UPMC has been charged with health care fraud and distributing narcotic pain pills. The charges are federal charges and are the result of an investigation brought by UPMC police.
Accused is Marios Papachristou, age 43, of Hampton. He has been charged with 46 counts of illegally distributing Vicodin to two people who didn’t need it.
He is facing additional charges of fraud, for submitting fraudulent bills to UPMC’s Health Plan so they would pay for the fake prescriptions he wrote over the last four years.
The attorney representing Dr. Papchristou would not comment on the case. However, he indicated in papers filed in court that the doctor plans to plead guilty and waive a grand jury indictment. He will go before U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab on May 3.
Papachristou is the second radiologist to be charged with this crime. Omar Almusa, age 45, of Shadyside, is facing 88 counts of writing prescriptions for Vicodin for people with no medical need for it.
On March 1, both men were charged by UPMC police with offenses related to the distribution of Vicodin and conspiracy. Both were fired from their jobs; the investigation was referred to the U.S. attorney’s office.
These cases are the result of a push in the district to go after members of the health care profession who contribute to the opioid crisis by passing out pills and defrauding insurance programs. Attorney Jeff Sessions announced last August the creation of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit to investigate these cases.
There have been other similar cases where health care professionals were charged federally. Dr. Andrej Zielke, age 62, of Hampton, used to operate Medical Frontiers out of the Richland Mall. He is charged with running a pill mill.
Christopher Handa was the most recently charged medical professional. He was charged in federal court three days ago with illegally distributing suboxone, a drug used to treat narcotic addictions. Handa is the operator of an opioid clinic in Washington County. He has additional locations in West Virginia.
The case involving former UPMC employees began in February, when the medical network received a complaint about Dr. Almusa prescribing painkillers to people who were not his patients. The criminal complaint against him says that one of the three people to whom he prescribed nearly 6,000 pills was Dr. Papachristou’s wife.
The complaint against Dr. Papachristou says he prescribed, to two people, a total of 3,600 pills between January 1, 2016 and February 20, 2018.
The federal charges only say that Dr. Papachristou prescribed the pills to two people from 2014 to 2017, and that he sent in fake bills to UPMC from 2014 through March 2018.
Dr. Papachristou and his friend, Dr. Almusa, were both sent to federal prison for two years in May 2018 and ordered to pay $15,000 fines. Both indicated that they were motivated by addictions, Papachristou’s resulting from a kidney infection in 2006.
Almusa wrote prescriptions for Vicodin in Papachristou’s wife’s name. Sara Papachristou shared the pills with her husband. Papacristou did the same for a friend and a relative of Almusa’s, who split the pills with him.
Papachristou asked for probation instead of jail time, a request that was denied. He went through rehab before he was investigated and arrested and has expressed remorse. The prosecutor, however, insisted that Papachristou and Almusa are part of Western Pennsylvania’s opioid problem and that more than just they were harmed.
Federal drug charges are serious crimes. These doctors face high fines and long prison sentences. They’ve already lost their jobs, and likely will never again work in the health care industry, in their chosen profession or in any other aspect of it. Their reputations are ruined, and they and their families must face their neighbors and friends with this made public. It’s never worth it, folks.
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