Former physician assistant convicted in kickback scheme
CONCORD, N.H. – DEA New England Division Special Agent in Charge Brian D. Boyle and United States Attorney Scott W. Murray announced that a federal jury found Christopher Clough, 44, of Dover, N.H., guilty of participating in a scheme in which he received kickbacks in exchange for prescribing a powerful fentanyl spray to patients in violation of federal law.
According to testimony during the trial, which began on Dec. 11, 2018, Clough worked as a physician assistant in New Hampshire. After being approached by a representative of a drug manufacturer in June 2013, he became a frequent prescriber of a fentanyl spray that had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat breakthrough cancer pain. From approximately June 2013 through fall 2014, Clough wrote more than 750 prescriptions for the fentanyl spray in New Hampshire, including more than 225 prescriptions for Medicare patients. The Medicare program paid over $2.1 million for these prescriptions.
Trial testimony demonstrated that during the time he was writing these prescriptions, the manufacturer of the drug paid Clough to serve as a speaker at more than 40 programs at a rate of approximately $1,000 per event. In many instances, the programs were merely sham events where Clough was paid to have dinner with employees or representatives of the pharmaceutical company. During most dinner programs, Clough did not give any kind of presentation about the drug. Clough and others often forged signatures of attendees on sign-in sheets in an effort to make the dinners appear to be legitimate. Evidence at trial demonstrated that Clough received over $49,000 in payments from the drug manufacturer.
Testimony at the trial also showed that Clough often prescribed the drug for patients who did not have breakthrough cancer pain. He often started patients on high doses of the addictive fentanyl spray and rebuffed patients and their family members who stated that they no longer wanted the drug.
Clough was convicted of one count of conspiracy and seven counts of receipt of kickbacks in relation to a federal healthcare program. He faces up to five years in prison on each count of conviction when he is sentenced on March 29, 2019.
“The reckless action by this former physician assistant was not only a crime, but a betrayal of the public trust,” said Special Agent in Charge Boyle. “Today’s verdict not only holds Mr. Clough accountable for his crimes, but serves as a warning to those individuals who are fueling the opioid crisis in order to profit and destroy people’s lives. DEA’s obligation is to improve public safety and public health, and we are committed to working with our law enforcement and regulatory partners to ensure that rules and regulations are followed.”
“Health care providers should make their treatment decisions based upon the needs of their patients, not their desire to pad their wallets,” said U.S. Attorney Murray. “Corporate money should not be allowed to influence a patient’s medical decisions, especially when it comes to prescriptions for a powerful opioid drug like fentanyl. When providers are influenced by kickbacks, this can have tremendously bad consequences for patients. I thank the jury for thoughtfully reviewing the evidence and rendering this important verdict that shows that corruption in the health care field will not be tolerated.”
“Today’s verdict reinforces the FBI’s commitment to making sure that patients receive, and the government pays for, health care that is not compromised by kickbacks,” said FBI Boston Division Special Agent in Charge. “What Mr. Clough is accused of doing in this case—receiving kickbacks in exchange for prescribing a powerful fentanyl spray—not only violated federal law, but put patients at risk and contributed to the opioid crisis. The FBI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to do everything we can to root out those who place profit before patient safety.”
“New Hampshire is in the midst of a devastating opioid crisis, as deaths from fentanyl soar. Clough prescribed a highly addictive form of fentanyl based on kickback payments not on the needs of his patients,” said HHS Office of the Inspector General Special Agent in Charge Phillip M. Coyne. “His conduct has played a significant role in damaging our community and he will now pay the price.”
This matter was jointly investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Diversion Control Division, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.