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Published: Friday, February 28, 2014, 1:00 a.m.
In Our View/Preventing 'pill mills'

A lot more than a nuisance

Here’s another reason you cannot keep your doctor, even you if really, really like him or her: He or she was dealing drugs.
In December, Dr. Hieu Tu Le, 40, pleaded guilty to running a prescription mill out of his Everett Mall Way clinic, Northwest Green Medical, Levi Pulkkinen of reported. In his plea, Le admitted he simply sold pain pills directly to patients, ditching the charade of prescriptions. (During the lengthy DEA investigation, it was noted patients leaving the clinic never availed themselves of the pharmacy next door.)
Agents estimate Le’s operation brought him hundreds of thousands of dollars in less than two years. The money helped pay for a $800,000 home in Snohomish, Pulkkinen reported, and pay down his student loans. (Pulkkinen notes of Le’s career path: “A graduate of Saint Lucia’s less than prestigious Spartan Health Science University — its graduates are barred from practicing medicine in five U.S. states, and the entire United Kingdom — Le was a traveling anesthesiologist before he opened a medical marijuana clinic on Seattle’s Capitol Hill for seven months in 2012.)
In court papers, a DEA agent said the investigation into Le’s activities began in October 2012 as a Medicare fraud case. Investigators contended Le had been soaking insurance companies during his years working out of Valley General Hospital in Monroe, Pulkkinen reported. The agent said Le admitted to staff there that he’d been faking patient records for eight years in order to overcharge for his services. Investigators estimated Le tried to steal $142,000 from the federal program, and managed to receive $28,500 in Medicare payments for bogus claims.
After opening Northwest Green Medical in Everett, investigators learned Le was prescribing about 2,238 oxycodone tablets each month. Between late October 2011 and late May 2013, he issued 314 oxycodone prescriptions that ultimately saw 38,384 pain pills sold. In the 18 months prior to April, he took in $616,828; nearly half of that came in cash payments.
“Le appeared to simply be prescribing controlled substances in order to make a profit, and without any due regard for medically-based patient need,” an agent wrote in court papers. Le, 40, faces five to seven years in federal prison when he is sentenced in April.
Opiate addiction is a health epidemic in the United States. In Washington, there are more deaths annually from prescription drug abuse than from meth, cocaine, and heroin combined. While Everett enacted an ordiance labeling medical marijuana dispensaries “a nuisance” to keep them from opening in the city, does it need to do something to prevent another strip mall pill mill such as Le’s from opening and operating?

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Herald Editorial Board

Jon Bauer, Opinion Editor:

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