|Dr. William O'Brien III|
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Alleged pill mill doc accused of trying to defraud FDA, insurers
Posted: Wednesday, November 18, 2015
A suspended Bucks County doctor accused of operating a cash-only pill mill that netted nearly $2 million and led to the death of a patient is now accused of collecting $4 million in insurance reimbursements for treating patients with a device made out of a used propane tank.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office on Wednesday unsealed its latest indictment against Dr. William J. O’Brien III, 50.
O'Brien, whose residence is listed as Bristol Township and Philadelphia, is in federal prison without bail, pending trial on the earlier drug charges. The Pennsylvania Medical Board has suspended his medical license.
The indictment accuses him of conspiring to defraud the Food and Drug Administration and conspiracy to commit health insurance fraud.
Federal authorities allege O’Brien made misrepresentations to the FDA to obtain the agency’s clearance for his 10-person hyperbaric chamber, which he marketed under the name Hyperox 101.
A hyperbaric chamber is a medical device that lets patients breathe 100 percent pure oxygen for a prolonged period in a pressurized environment. In recent years, the treatment has seen renewed interest, especially for chronic wound care, one of its FDA-approved uses. The treatment appears to speed the healing process by delivering more oxygen to injured areas.
Under FDA requirements, a hyperbaric chamber that treats patients must be constructed using a certain kind of steel and certified as a pressure vessel for human occupancy, according to the federal government. O'Brien's Hyperox model was made from pieces of a used propane tank that were welded together, the indictment alleges. As a result of its “substandard” construction, the device didn't provide patients with therapeutic benefits and put them at potential risk, the indictment said.
The federal government charges that O’Brien knew about the device’s deficiencies, but gained FDA approval by submitting false documentation.
He also used the unapproved device to defraud Medicare and other health benefit programs out of more than $4 million between March 2007 and August 2011, the U.S. attorney said. O'Brien allegedly submitted approximately $15 million in claims for what the indictment called “medically unnecessary and potentially unsafe” treatments.
The new charges come following an FBI raid of O’Brien’s hyperbaric oxygen business in Middletown in September 2011. There, federal agents seized files at the office and three other practices that were run by O’Brien. They also seized the $900,000 hyperbaric chamber that O’Brien claimed he invented and patented.
In a phone interview the day after the raid, O’Brien said the search warrants involved only records and items connected with Hyper-Ox and not his then-medical and physical therapy practices. He has since been removed from those practices.
“My opinion is, for some reason, there is a perception that the machine is dangerous,” O’Brien said in the 2011 interview.
A doctor of osteopathic medicine, O'Brien was charged in July 2015 with operating a “pill mill” from his medical offices.
O’Brien — who once ran a string of family practices in Bucks, Lehigh and Philadelphia counties — faces 95 additional counts of distribution of controlled substances, specifically oxycodone, methadone and amphetamines, according to federal authorities.
O’Brien and his then-wife, Elizabeth Hibbs, 54, also allegedly diverted assets from O’Brien’s company, WJO Inc., to their personal accounts and other accounts they controlled. They also allegedly concealed other assets and knowingly made a false statement under oath during bankruptcy proceedings.
O’Brien allegedly developed a scheme in which he recruited so-called “patients” who would typically pay him $200 cash in exchange for prescriptions for controlled substances. Once the prescriptions were filled, the “patients” handed over the drugs to eight other defendants who were charged in the earlier indictment and who then sold them to drug dealers, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The feds allege O’Brien’s illegal prescription drug business led to the 2013 death of an unidentified patient at his former Bristol Township practice. O’Brien allegedly prescribed the patient Flexeril, a muscle relaxant, along with the opiate painkillers oxycodone and methadone, a combination that officials said led to his death.
If convicted of all the drug charges, O’Brien faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life behind bars.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @jociavaglia