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Licensed to Pill: Big opioid prescriber indicted

InvestigateTV featured a top opioid prescriber who continued to practice. More than two years later, a federal grand jury has now indicted the Alabama and Tennessee physician.

By: Megan Luther, Lee Zurik and Jill Riepenhoff

Originally Published: October 2, 2020

(InvestigateTV) – Nearly three years after a federal raid of a Lewisburg, Tennessee clinic, a federal grand jury and prosecutors charged the doctor and six others with healthcare fraud, drug distribution and kickback conspiracy.

InvestigateTV featured Murphy in a 2018 investigation into the top opioid prescribers to Medicare patients. From 2013-2015 Murphy prescribed the most in the country.

By 2017, he had moved his practice from Alabama to Tennessee after the Alabama Medical Board launched an investigation. Days after the story aired, federal agents raided Murphy’s Tennessee office.

The 25-count indictment alleges Dr. Mark A. Murphy and his wife illegally distributed controlled substances “and indeed used controlled substances to grow and maintain a large patient population,” the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.

Murphy and his co-conspirators are also charged with defrauding healthcare benefit programs of $41 million in services and equipment that was medically unnecessary or not done at all, according to court records. Among the victims are taxpayer-supported Medicare and TRICARE, the military healthcare system.

The top 1,000 highest prescribers in the Medicare Part D program, which provides drug benefits to the elderly and disabled, collectively wrote 14.6 million prescriptions between 2013 and 2015, InvestigateTV analysis of public data showed.

In 2015, Murphy gave his Medicare patients opioids that, if taken as prescribed, would have lasted each of them 497 days, the data showed at the time.

The recent federal indictment alleges that beginning in 2012 through early 2017, Murphy and his wife illegally distributed opioids such as Fentanyl, Oxycodone, and Hydrocodone, that were not used for legitimate medical purposes.

The recent federal charges stem from activity at his Alabama and Tennessee clinics.

Murphy and his wife could not be reached for comment.

Murphy’s son, Mark Murphy, Jr. and brother have also been charged of receiving kickbacks as urine techs, “despite their lack of relevant experience in the area,” according to the indictment.

Murphy, Jr.’s attorney declined to comment.

Dr. Murphy has been on regulators’ radar for years. Back in 2016, the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners levied an 8-count complaint against Dr. Murphy for:
• Acting unprofessionally.
• Endangering patients.
• Prescribing not for legitimate medical purposes.
• Performing unnecessary tests.
• Lacking basic medical knowledge and competency.

The medical board complaint detailed questionable care of 15 patients. One was a 58-year-old man who overdosed on a dangerous combination of opioids and other drugs prescribed by Murphy. Several other patients said they received opioids even though they had documented substance abuse issues. In some cases, Murphy increased the doses.

The committee that investigated Murphy had “grave concerns” about him and recommended that the board revoke his medical license.

But that didn’t happen.

Instead, the board allowed his license to practice in Alabama expire at the end of 2016 and dismissed the case two months later. That left Murphy’s reputation unscathed by formal disciplinary actions.

No arrests related to the indictment have been made yet. Federal arraignment for the defendants is scheduled for October 15.