A Pittsburgh-area pain clinic doctor has been charged with illegally prescribing narcotic painkillers to patients with no medical need, including three who died of overdoses.
Dr. Andrzej Zielke, owner of Medical Frontiers in the Richland Mall, was charged by complaint under seal on Wednesday, and agents with the FBI, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and other agencies raided the clinic and the doctor's house in Hampton Thursday.
The case was unsealed Friday.
According to an affidavit, FBI informants said Dr. Zielke has been prescribing painkillers for addicts, including one identified only as "B.R." who died of an overdose of oxymorphone and other drugs in December 2014. Most of his prescriptions have been filled at a Medicine Shoppe pharmacy in Oakmont.
Dr. Zielke advertises his business as a medical practice using a holistic approach to treatment using non-invasive procedures.
But federal agents said former patients indicated the practice was a "pill mill" where patients paid cash for office visits and received prescriptions that they did not need.
The pain clinic tucked into the corner of a low-slung suburban strip mall was an open secret.
Patients would travel hundreds of miles to see Dr. Andrzej Zielke, eager for what authorities described as a steady flow of prescriptions for the kinds of powerful painkillers that ushered the nation into its worst drug crisis in history.
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 office, sometimes sleeping in the waiting room. Some peddled their pills near tumble-down storefronts and on blighted street corners in addiction-plagued parts of Allegheny County, where deaths by drug overdose reached record levels last year.
But Robert Cessar, a longtime federal prosecutor, was unaware of Zielke until Justice Department officials handed him a binder of data that, he said, confirmed what pill-seekers from as far away as Ohio and Virginia already knew. The doctor who offered ozone therapy and herbal pain remedies was also prescribing highly addictive narcotics to patients who didn't need them, according to an indictment charging him with conspiracy and unlawfully distributing controlled substances.
Zielke denied he was overprescribing, telling AP he practiced alternative medicine and many of his patients stopped seeing him when he cut down on pain pills.
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.