Physician Assistant sentenced to 10 years in prison
OAKLAND, Calif. – David Lague was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and for unlawfully distributing prescription drugs, announced United States Attorney Alex G. Tse, Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Chris Nielsen, and Health & Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigations Special Agent in Charge Steven J. Ryan. The sentence was handed down by the Honorable Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr., U.S. District Judge.
On July 24, 2018, a jury found Lague guilty of 39 counts of unlawful distribution of controlled substances, after a two-week trial. During the trial, evidence showed that Lague intentionally prescribed drugs to five different patients, knowing that the prescriptions were outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose. The evidence showed that, on two occasions, a patient asked Lague to double his prescriptions for powerful opioids so that the patient could sell the drugs. Lague not only doubled the prescriptions, he also discussed with the patient how to do it in a way to avoid scrutiny by pharmacies or law enforcement. Lague admitted at trial that he wrote false medical records of those visits in order to cover up what he was doing. The evidence at trial also showed that Lague falsified records as to other patients as well, detailing exams that never took place and indicating that he had reviewed lab work that he never reviewed. An expert who reviewed four of Lague’s patient files found that his handling of those patients was an extreme departure from the standard of care. Further, the evidence at trial showed that, among physicians who prescribed opioids to 50 or more MediCare patients, Lague was the highest prescriber of opioids in California in 2015 and 2016.
“This case represents an important victory for the community in its fight against the diversion of prescription drugs,” U.S. Attorney Tse said. “The medical profession has made great strides in reforming prescribing practices, and the DEA has worked to decrease the total quantities of pills that pharmaceutical companies produce every year, all with the end of decreasing the numbers of powerful opioid pills getting into the hands of vulnerable members of our community,” he continued. “We appreciate and support their combined efforts. At the same time, we will not hesitate to charge and seek the conviction of those few medical professionals who have abandoned all pretense of providing patient care and instead use their power to prescribe for their own personal benefit. David Lague abused his power in this way. He showed no hesitation when asked to provide pills to someone who said he was going to sell them. There can be no greater abuse of the trust the community placed in him when it gave him the ability to prescribe. Lague’s conduct put a stain on the reputations of the thousands of doctors and physician assistants who try their hardest daily to provide compassionate, quality medical care to the patients they see.”
“Most physician assistants generally hold as their primary responsibility the health, safety, welfare and dignity of all human beings. Instead, Mr. Lague placed his own personal interests above protecting public health and safety, when he provided powerful narcotics outside the usual course of practice and without a medical purpose. This criminal behavior jeopardizes lives,” stated DEA Special Agent in Charge Nielsen. “DEA will continue to hold accountable those who engage in this type of illegal conduct.”
“Medical professionals who overprescribe deadly opioids threaten the health and safety of vulnerable individuals across the country,” said Steven J. Ryan, Special Agent in Charge for the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “OIG along with our law enforcement partners will ensure that corrupt people, like David Lague, pay a heavy price for the criminal prescribing of opioids.”
In addition to the prison term, Judge Gilliam sentenced the defendant to a 3-year period of supervised release following incarceration, a $5,000 fine, and a $3,800 special assessment. Lague was immediately remanded into custody to begin serving his sentence.
The prosecution is the product of an extensive investigation by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, a focused multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional task force investigating and prosecuting the most significant drug trafficking organizations throughout the United States by leveraging the combined expertise of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.