Alabama Political Reporter
Friday, federal prosecutors charged a Vestavia Hills doctor with illegally prescribing controlled substances, including opioid painkillers, at a pain clinic in Moody, Ala.
U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town and Drug Enforcement Administration Assistant Special Agent in Charge Bret Hamilton announced the one-count indictment of conspiracy to illegally dispense and distribute class II controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose in U.S. District Court.
Steven Bruce Hefter, allegedly prescribed controlled substances, including oxycodone, methadone and hydrocodone, outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose between 2012 and December 2015. Hefter worked at a pain management clinic in Moody that closed after investigators began looking into the clinic’s prescribing practices.
In conjunction with the charge against Hefter, prosecutors also filed a plea agreement with him. The terms of the plea agreement were filed under seal, however, Hefter will be required to surrender his Alabama medical license, along with his state and federal DEA certificates to prescribe controlled substances. He will be prohibited from ever practicing medicine in the United States.
A federal judge must accept the terms of the agreement before it is final.
“President Trump has declared the opioid crisis a national health emergency,” Town said. “Attorney General Sessions has already implemented programs to target this epidemic. Our collective efforts in the Northern District of Alabama are already getting results and the people of Alabama can count on many more.”
“Our agents will continue to work these cases tirelessly,” Hamilton said. “This opioid crisis is devastating to our community and our children.”
“Doctors must play a critical role in not only treating pain but also in combating America’s opioid epidemic,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Mohammad Khatib. “Doctors prescribing opioids within the bounds of legitimate medicine are not the focus of the Department of Justice. We are, however, coming for those physicians and medical providers who abuse their positions and prescribing authority for no other purpose than greed. Doctors who do so harm all Americans and represent the nadir of the medical profession.”
Hefter specialized as a cardiologist, not in pain management, but worked as a pain management physician for the clinic in Moody. According to prosecutors, the clinic held itself out as providing legitimate pain management services. In reality, the clinic was a “pill mill” churning out schedule II controlled substance pills mainly to make money.
The DEA investigated the case, based partly on an investigation conducted by the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners.
Khatib is prosecuting the case.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump said, “Last year, we lost at least 64,000 Americans to overdoses. That’s 175 lost American lives per day. That’s seven lost lives per hour in our country. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of unintentional death in the United States by far. More people are dying from drug overdoses today than from gun homicides and motor vehicles combined. Think of it — motor vehicle crashes, gun homicides, more people by far from drug overdoses.”
“These overdoses are driven by a massive increase in addiction to prescription painkillers, heroin, and other opioids,” the President said. “Last year, almost 1 million Americans used heroin, and more than 11 million abused prescription opioids. The United States is by far the largest consumer of these drugs, using more opioid pills per person than any other country by far in the world. Opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999 and now account for the majority of fatal drug overdoses. Who would have thought? No part of our society — not young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural — has been spared this plague of drug addiction and this horrible, horrible situation that’s taken place with opioids.”