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Baltimore County doctor pleads guilty to taking kickbacks to prescribe pain medication

A Baltimore County doctor has pleaded guilty to taking kickbacks to prescribe highly addictive pain medication, part of the fallout of a racketeering case and civil penalties levied against executives of an Arizona-based pharmaceutical company who prosecutors said helped fuel the opioid crisis.

Howard J. Hoffberg, 65, who was associate medical director and part-owner of Rosen-Hoffberg Rehabilitation and Pain Management, pleaded guilty Wednesday afternoon to conspiracy to violate anti-kickback statutes for taking money from Insys Therapeutics between 2012 to 2018 to prescribe a fentanyl spray called Subsys.

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Hoffberg, of Reisterstown, received $66,000 in payments after entering into a contract to conduct speaking engagements for Insys. Federal prosecutors called the arrangement a “sham,” designed to funnel the kickbacks.

“(T)he presentations lacked the appropriate audience of licensed practitioners seeking educational information regarding Subsys; and/or the same attendees attended the same presentation over and over again; and/or the event was cancelled but the Defendant was still paid,” according to court documents.

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Meanwhile, the doctor gave patients improper prescriptions for Subsys, the documents state.

The founder of Insys, John Kapoor, was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison last year after being found guilty of racketeering conspiracy. The case was considered the first seeking to hold an opioid maker criminally liable for the drug crisis, which has claimed nearly 400,000 lives over the last two decades.

Kapoor and others were accused of paying millions of dollars in bribes to doctors across the United States to prescribe Subsys. In addition to paying bribes, the company also was accused of misleading insurers to get payment approved for the drug, which is meant to treat cancer patients in severe pain and can cost as much as $19,000 a month.

Along with Kapoor, four others from Insys were convicted last year and two pleaded guilty. All of them have been dealt prison sentences, ranging from a year and a day to nearly three years.

Insys last year reached a $225 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice to end its criminal and civil probes, and the company has since filed for bankruptcy protection.

Hoffberg was charged in May. His pain management clinic closed in February 2018. Prosecutors previously charged a physician’s assistant who worked at the clinic, William Soyke. Soyke pleaded guilty in 2019 to conspiracy to distribute and dispense oxycodone, fentanyl, methadone, and alprazolam outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose.

Prosecutors said Soyke admitted that he believed that Hoffberg and another man, who has not been charged with a crime, prescribed excessive levels of opioids, but both doctors overruled any attempts by Soyke to lower patients’ dosages. Soyke admitted in his plea that he knew that many of the patients presenting to Hoffberg did not have a legitimate medical need for the oxycodone, fentanyl, alprazolam, and methadone they were being prescribed. Nevertheless, Soyke issued prescriptions for these drugs, prosecutors said.

Soyke also admitted that in several instances he engaged in sexual, physical contact with female patients who were attempting to get prescriptions. Although the female patients complained to Dr. Hoffberg about Soyke’s behavior, the doctors did not fire Soyke because Soyke saw the largest number of patients at the practice and generated significant revenue for his bosses, prosecutors said.

Soyke has not yet been sentenced.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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