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West Virginia physician faces 390 years in prison, $5 million fine for fraud, drug distribution

Lone physician at family clinic charged with 19 counts of distribution of controlled substances, including opioids.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

A West Virginia doctor is facing several lifetimes in prison and up to a $5 million fine after being indicted on multiple charges related to the distribution of controlled substances including opioids and healthcare fraud, the Department of Justice has announced. 

A 20-count indictment has been returned against physician Manuel C. Barit, the lone practicing physician at Mullens Family Clinic. He is charged with 19 counts of distribution of Schedule II controlled substances, including hydrocodone, outside the bounds of a legitimate medical practice. 

West Virginia is one of 12 states participating in a pilot program called the Opioid Fraud Abuse and Detection Unit, which uses data to identify and prosecute individuals feeding the national opioid crisis. 

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It's reached epidemic levels and in February, AG Sessions introduced the Prescription Interdiction and Litigation Task Force, a new group that would build on the OFADU and focus on drug manufacturers and distributors, fighting the opioid crisis through the distribution system including pharmacies, pain management clinics, drug testing facilities, and individual physicians.

The task force aims to ensure that opioid manufacturers are marketing their products truthfully and in accordance with Food and Drug Administration rules.

As law enforcement continues its mission of rooting out clinicians who choose to abuse their power and contribute to the opioid abuse epidemic, hospitals and providers are stepping up to fight it. New Hampshire hospitals have committed $50 million to programs that seek to treat addiction, including opioids, over the next five years. New Hampshire has proven to be one of the hardest hit states when to comes to the opioid abuse crisis gripping the country, ranking third in drug overdoses per capita nationwide.

Meanwhile medical researchers from Yale University are fighting the scourge through academia, publishing a recent study in JAMA that indicated the manner in which opioids are administered might influence how addictive the drug is. The study said that IV dosing of opioids can be more addictive because of the speed and manner in which the drug enters the body, and pills and injected doses curb pain effectively but may be less addictive and less prone to triggering side effects as well. 

The allegations against Barit also include a scheme that allegedly operated from about October 7, 2013 through this January 24, when Barit is believed to have defrauded Medicare and Medicaid by submitting claims for treatments at his Mullens clinic on dates he was outside the United States. Barit faces up to 390 years in prison and a $5 million fine if convicted on all charges.

"Today we are facing the worst drug crisis in American history, with one American dying of a drug overdose every nine minutes," said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  "It's incredible but true that some of our trusted medical professionals have chosen to violate their oaths and exploit this crisis for profit."

United States Attorney Mike Stuart added that the office will continue its focus on holding doctors accountable when they put patients health and safety at risk. 

"A drug dealer in a lab coat," Stuart said, "is still just a drug dealer."

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
Email the writer: beth.sanborn@himssmedia.com