Former N.J. doctor illegally prescribed thousands of pills, submitted fake insurance claims, prosecutor says

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A former doctor in New Jersey was indicted last month on more than a dozen drug-dealing charges and also is facing charges related to an illegal medical billing scheme that lasted several years, authorities said.

A Burlington County grand jury indicted Morris “Moishe” Starkman, 62, of Cinnaminson, on Nov. 19 on 15 counts of distribution of a controlled dangerous substance, five counts of health care claims fraud and one count of insurance fraud, the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office announced Tuesday.

Starkman was originally charged on Nov. 22, 2019 after police executed a search warrant at his home and seized multiple electronic devices along with business, financial and medical records, according to a statement from the office.

Investigators determined that between January 2015 and January 2018, the doctor issued prescriptions through his Bordentown Family Practice for nearly 1.4 million total doses of opioids, including Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, Roxicodone, Endocet), Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco, Lorcet, Lortab), Oxymorphone (Opana), Hydromorphone (Dilaudid), morphine and fentanyl.

Eight patients of Starkman received 11 doses of opioids per day on average during that three-year period and one patient alone was prescribed 17,640 doses, which equates to more than 15 per day, the office said. They each received anywhere from four to 10 times the maximum dose recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“An investigation revealed that Starkman would perform cursory examinations on patients before prescribing large amounts of opioids without medical justification, consideration of whether his patients were benefitting from the prescription painkillers he routinely and repeatedly prescribed, or exploration of the underlying causes for their pain,” according to a statement from Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina.

The former doctor maintained inadequate records, which did not document treatment plans for pain management, and Coffina said the patients would frequently return to the practice for refills for the highly-addictive drugs and would be charged for an office visit.

“Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died from overdoses and millions more struggle with Substance Use Disorder,” Coffina said. “In a great many of these cases, the person’s addiction began with prescribed opioids. Physicians who violated their oaths and patients’ trust by indiscriminately prescribing opioid medication without monitoring how their patients were doing on the drugs and whether they were becoming addicted must be held accountable for criminal conduct that has contributed to the destruction of lives and the relentless crisis of addiction so many are still dealing with.”

Over the same time period, Starkman submitted fake healthcare claims to insurance companies for more than $50,000 for services that were either not authorized, not eligible for reimbursement, not provided as he claimed or did not happen at all, investigators said.

Starkman, who first came to the attention of investigators in late 2016 after an insurance company contacted them about suspicious illegal activity at his practice, had his license temporarily suspended in August 2017, the office said. In April 2018, he agreed to permanently surrender his license to practice medicine in the state.

Records seized from Starkman’s practice revealed that one of his patients fatally overdosed in May 2015, two months after his last visit to the Bordentown office, Coffina said.

The male patient, whom the state attorney general’s office previously identified only by the initials H.H., came to Starkman as a 19-year-old complaining of lower back pain. Starkman allegedly prescribed pain pills for H.H., sometimes as many as 240 pills a month.

The doctor continued to refill the prescriptions despite concerning visits in 2014 and 2015 where H.H. was “slurring and falling asleep” or “sick (and) ran out of meds early again,” the attorney general’s office said. He died in May 2015 of an overdose at the age of 22, two months after his final visit with Starkman.

“However, due to insufficient evidence connecting his prescriptions to the patient’s fatal overdose, Starkman was not criminally charged in connection with the patient’s death,” Coffina said.

Starkman was scheduled to be arraigned in Burlington County Superior Court at an unspecified time.

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Chris Sheldon may be reached at [email protected].

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