Milford doctor found guilty of overprescribing opioids
Doctor wrote 27K scripts for painkillers in four years, including to a pregnant woman and recovered addicts
BY ERIKA NORTON
MILFORD — Dr. Fuhai Li was found guilty Tuesday of illegally prescribing large amounts of opioid painkillers, referred to as a “pill mill” operation, out of two medical offices in Milford.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Li, 53, illegally prescribed oxycodone and other opioid painkillers to 23 former patients, including a Honesdale woman who died as a result of using the pills and a pregnant woman who gave birth to an opioid-dependent baby.
Prosecutors say Li prescribed the pregnant woman 120 oxycodone 30 milligram tablets 11 days before giving birth to an opioid-dependent baby. The baby spent 10 days in intensive care withdrawing from the oxycodone prescribed to his mother by Li.
Li faces a mandatory 20-year prison sentence for causing the woman’s death, and up to life in prison.
‘Pill mill’Between 2011 and 2015, prosecutors say Li wrote almost 27,000 prescriptions for opioids, including oxycodone, methadone, OxyContin, hydrocodone and hydromorphone.
The jury found that Li repeatedly prescribed oxycodone and other opioids outside the usual course of medical practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose, as well as repeatedly falsified patient medical records and made omissions in an effort to hide the illegal prescriptions.
During the five-week trial, former patients testified that Li repeatedly prescribed them high doses of oxycodone and other opioids every month over several years without performing medical examinations and without verifying their prior medical treatment. Former patients said that they became dependent and addicted to opioids as a result of Li’s prescriptions.
Readdicting recovered usersProsecutors say that Li prescribed high dose opioids to patients who he knew had recently completed drug rehabilitation and detoxification programs, resulting in those patients becoming addicted again to opioid pain medication.
Several former patients testified that they earned money by selling drugs prescribed for them by Li and used part of the money to buy heroin to support their own addiction. Prosecutors say some of those former patients also subsequently sold heroin on the streets of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
The jury convicted Li of using two medical offices — 104 Bennett Avenue in Milford and 200 Third Street in Milford — illegally prescribe the opioids.
Other allegations and chargesOne former female patient testified that she had sex with Li on almost every visit to his office during a four-year time period, according to prosecutors. Li prescribed that patient high doses of various opioids for approximately four years.
Two other former female patients testified to inappropriate sexual conduct by Li during office visits.
Li was also convicted of money laundering and tax evasion. During their investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration agents seized more than $1 million in cash, which was hidden under beds and in closets in Li’s residences. Prosecutors say many of Li’s patients paid cash for visits, drug screens, office tests, and injections.
Li was convicted of using criminal proceeds to pay off the mortgage on his East Stroudsburg residence in 2012, and to purchase his 200 Third Street office in 2013. Li was convicted of tax evasion for the tax years 2011, 2012, and 2013, after an IRS agent testified that Li underreported his taxable income for those years by more than $800,000.
The jury’s verdict included the forfeiture of the $1 million in cash that was seized from Li’s two residences and his two offices in Milford.
“Dr. Li’s criminal conduct and actions were reprehensible, as shown by the jury’s verdict on all of the charges,” said Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s Philadelphia Field Division Jonathan A. Wilson in a statement. “My office will continue to work vigorously with all of our law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to address the opioid epidemic that is gripping our region and nation at large. The investigation and arrest of rogue registrants who choose to betray their oath and professional obligation is a key part of the DEA’s mission to address this crisis.”
After the jury’s verdict, prosecutors asked that Li be immediately detained pending sentencing. Senior U.S. District Court Judge A. Richard Caputo released Li under electronic monitoring by the U.S. Probation Office.
U.S. Attorney David J. Freed intends to appeal the release order, according to a statement.