Court of Appeals determines Nigerian pill mill doctor’s sentence will stand.
The Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has upheld a 30-year sentence against an Alabama doctor who prescribed high numbers of opioids and subsequently fraudulently billed his patients, claiming that they were seeking allergy treatments. A jury found Dr. Patrick Ifediba guilty back in 2019 on dozens of counts of healthcare fraud, controlled substances violations (including prescribing rates that were more than ten times what would be appropriate under law.
Dr. Ifediba ran a pain care clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, Care Complete Medical Clinic (CCMC), alongside his wife, Dr. Uchenna Ifediba, where neither physician specialized in treating patients who were suffering from chronic or acute pain. Nevertheless, they prescribed highly addictive drugs to their patients, including oxycodone and fentanyl. Ultimately, after word got out about the pill mill, up to 85% percent of the doctor-couple’s patients received these prescriptions. Their practices attracted people willing to wait over three hours inside dirty, crowded waiting rooms just so that they could receive controlled substances without any hassle.
Because the clinic become so popular so quickly, it eventually caught the eye of investigators and Ifediba’s actions came to light when officials noticed that he was prescribing large amounts of drugs without actually checking patients’ allergies. They also discovered his expensive immunotherapy treatments were being prescribed for those who tested negative or had very few symptoms associated with an allergy. In addition, Ifediba administered anti -inflammatory meds to his patients such as naproxen sodium (an ingredient commonly used to relieve pain from headache, muscle aches, tendonitis, dental procedures, menstrual cramps, etc.) and ibuprofen monohydrates.
The cost of allergy treatments and shots at the clinic were more than $500 per patient, which was highly unusual and also drew red flags. When insurers noticed these high numbers, they notified federal authorities. Members of the clinic’s staff had originally reported these as those associated with food allergies or other medical conditions that require special attention. Later on, however, the staff changed their documentation during an audit to make it appear as if the treatments were less costly.
Ngozi Justina Ozuligbo, the sister of Dr. Ifediba, an employee at CCMC who worked as a nurse and was responsible for administering allergy tests and treatments was found guilty of fraud. In determining whether Ifediba’s sentence should be upheld, the court debated whether she had been aware that her brother’s medical center regularly entered patients into fraudulent medical records to avoid paying bills and in order to make it seem like they were more allergic than they actually were.
“Physicians who choose to deal drugs while hiding behind their white coats are no different than drug dealers who hide in alleys,” U.S. Attorney Prim F. Escalona said of the sentence being upheld. “The greed of Dr. Ifediba contributed to the ongoing opioid crisis that is plaguing our communities. And to add insult to injury, Dr. Ifediba used our financial system to disguise the proceeds of his crimes and launder them into financial accounts and real property. Each day, more law-enforcement resources are being deployed to address health care fraud. These resources will result in more doctors, nurses, and businesspeople in the health care sector being held accountable for their actions.”