South Carolina

Clinic cut corners to ‘liberally’ prescribe addictive opioids, feds say in SC lawsuit

Blue Cross and NC DHHS data shows thousands of doctors violating opioid law

Data from Blue Cross Blue Shield and N.C. Department of Health and Human Service shows thousands of doctors are over-prescribing opioids in violation of a new state law that limits prescriptions for first-time patients.
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Data from Blue Cross Blue Shield and N.C. Department of Health and Human Service shows thousands of doctors are over-prescribing opioids in violation of a new state law that limits prescriptions for first-time patients.

A pain management clinic based in South Carolina “liberally” prescribed addictive opioid painkillers that were not medically necessary, federal investigators say in recently unsealed lawsuits. The company has clinics in Tennessee, North Carolina and across South Carolina, the lawsuits say.

The company, Pain Management Associates of the Carolinas, was raided by the FBI late last year, according to the Greenville News. A doctor and a physician’s assistant from the clinic each face five criminal charges related to drugs in Greenville County, the newspaper reports.

A judge unsealed the lawsuits and made some of the information public this month. Doctors and practitioners at the clinics “liberally dispense addictive opioids to patients without proper evaluation of medical necessity,” according to one suit, filed by federal authorities and a former employee in October.

The lawsuit from Tracy Hawkins, the former employee, states: “Practitioners conduct cursory patient evaluations as mere formalities before initiating or renewing opioid prescriptions. A practitioner performs up to 90 of these so-called evaluations each day.”

Pain Management Associates has 10 locations in South Carolina, including in Myrtle Beach, Florence, four Upstate and three in the Columbia area, according to the company website. The company also has two locations in western North Carolina, in Waynesville and Arden, according to the site.

Pain Management’s owner, chiropractor Daniel McCollum, “owns and controls fifteen pain management clinics throughout South Carolina, three in North Carolina and one or two in Tennessee,” according to one of the lawsuits, but it’s unclear which of those are listed on the site.

The company also goes by FirstChoice Healthcare and Oaktree Medical Centre, according to the lawsuits.

“McCollum’s attorney, Rebekah Plowman, declined to comment” to the Greenville News, the newspaper reported.

Attorney David Rothstein, who filed one of the suits, said, “They primarily involve the prescriptions for opioid medications and urine drug testing that’s associated with those types of prescriptions,” according to WSPA.

Hawkins, a former medical assistant for the company, said the clinics would evaluate patients for just a couple minutes, but bill Medicare at a higher rate for evaluations that lasted 15 to 25 minutes.

A separate lawsuit, filed in 2017 but unsealed this month by a federal judge, accuses the company of lying on forms to bill Medicare and Medicaid as doctors saw an average of 75 patients a day. One doctor would see up to 120 patients a day at his peak, the lawsuit says.

The company would also refer patients to its own separate drug testing company and pharmacy, violating federal rules that prevent medical companies from referring Medicare patients to other companies owned by the same people, according to the lawsuit.

More than a half-million people died from opioids between 2000 and 2015. Today, opioid deaths are considered an epidemic. To understand the struggle of a drug addiction, we take a closer look at what happens to the body.

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Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.


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