A Worcester psychiatrist who previously practiced on Nantucket has been convicted of illegally prescribing ‘dangerous combinations’ of highly addictive drugs to his patients, the U.S. Attorney said.
Mohamad Och, 67, was convicted by a federal jury on Friday following an 11-day jury trial of three counts of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance, Acting U.S. Attorney Josh Levy said in a statement.
U.S. District Court Judge Margaret Guzman scheduled sentencing for Feb. 16, 2024. Och was arrested and charged in July 2021.
“Dr. Och deliberately and recklessly jeopardized patient safety by repeatedly prescribing dangerous combinations of benzodiazepines and stimulants,” Levy said. “This case underscores our office’s unwavering commitment to justice, patient safety and the responsible management of healthcare resources. Ensuring the well-being of patients is paramount.”
Och was a licensed psychiatrist who owned and operated Island Counseling Center in Worcester, Levy said. He also has practiced psychiatry elsewhere in Massachusetts, including Nantucket. Among other services, Och was authorized to prescribe Schedule II-IV controlled substances to patients.
Och “repeatedly prescribed a combination of benzodiazepines and stimulants outside of the usual course of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose,” Levy said.
“Specifically, om multiple occasions between August 2016 and February 2017, Och knowingly issued prescriptions for Adderall (a Schedule II amphetamine) and Xanax (a Schedule IV benzodiazepine) to undercover agents working for the DEA,” Levy said.
Evidence at trial showed that amphetamines have a high potential for abuse and present serious cardiovascular risks. Evidence also showed the risks presented by mixing Xanax, a depressant, with a stimulant like Adderall.
Additional trial evidence showed that Och “prescribed such highly-addictive medications without doing proper psychiatric examinations, without obtaining prior medical records, and without administering diagnostic tests (including urinalyses or blood tests) – even when faced with facts that the undercover patients may have been participating in drug diversion,” Levy said.
Furthermore, Och “did not discuss or review medication side effects, their conditions’ symptoms, or the risks and benefits of taking drugs like Adderall and Xanax with the undercover agents – despite documenting in medical records that he had done so,” Levy said.
Investigators said the case is one that highlights the dangers of illegally prescribing drugs and the subsequent threat to patient and public safety.
“Handing out controlled substances as casually as Halloween candy is a clear-cut crime, in which Dr. Och abrogated his professional ethics. Going forward, this experienced psychiatrist will have plenty of time to analyze his incredibly poor decisions that led to today’s conviction,” Jodi Cohen, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division, said in a statement. “The FBI, meanwhile, will continue to pursue investigations involving psychiatrists like Dr. Och.”
Special Agent in Charge Roberto Coviello of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, said in a statement, “Dr. Och disregarded the wellbeing of his patients by illegally prescribing controlled substances. We will continue working tirelessly alongside our law enforcement partners to ensure that corrupt medical practitioners who prey on their patients are brought to justice.”
“The DEA is committed to ensuring that all registrants are in compliance with the required regulations, which are enforceable through the Controlled Substances Act,” said Brian Boyle, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, New England Division, in a statement. “Failure to do so increases the potential for diversion and jeopardizes public health and public safety. DEA pledges to work with our law enforcement and regulatory partners to ensure these rules and regulations are followed.”
The charge of illegal prescription of a Schedule II controlled substance provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $1 million. The charge of illegal prescription of a Schedule IV controlled substance provides for a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $1 million.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.
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