Investigators raid Lexington pain clinic

jkegley@herald-leader.comFebruary 15, 2012 

A Lexington pain clinic that previously generated multiple complaints from physicians and nearby residents and businesses was raided Wednesday morning by police and agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration.

At 10:30 a.m., about 20 plainclothes officers from the DEA, state police and Lexington police went inside Lexington Algiatry on Alexandria Drive.

Rich Isaacson, a DEA spokesman based in Detroit, confirmed agents were executing a federal search warrant, but declined further comment because of the ongoing investigation.

Lexington Algiatry moved to an office at a business complex at 1718 Alexandria after its offices on North Broadway became the center of an investigation by the Board of Medical Licensure. That investigation stemmed from numerous grievances about suspected inappropriate prescriptions of controlled substances that were written by Dr. Najam Azmat, according to officials with the board.

The location that was the subject of Wednesday's raid is listed for Azmat in records on the board's Web site. Officials said those records were current. It wasn't clear whether Azmat was practicing at Lexington Algiatry Wednesday. Azmat could not be reached for comment.

Medical board executive director Michael Rodman told the Herald-Leader that the board investigation, which began in November, was completed. The findings are scheduled to be presented Thursday to a panel of the board, he said.

Rodman said the board was cooperating with the DEA in its investigation. He said the board could continue its proceedings without having to wait for the results of the criminal investigation.

Police were inside the office for more than 6 hours after the investigation began Wednesday.

When officers arrived, police talked to people inside the clinic as well as people waiting in cars with out-of-county license plates in the clinic's parking lot. By 12:25 p.m., they had made six arrests for outstanding warrants. One man in a car with Boyd County license plates was ticketed for having a prescription pill outside of its original container.

Some who were arrested pulled into the parking lot and entered the complex after police had arrived. Two men looked curiously at police officers and reporters gathered outside before entering the building. Minutes later, the men left the building in handcuffs.

Throughout the day, other people who were in the office were allowed to leave. None of them wanted to speak with reporters waiting outside.

The complex is home to several other businesses, including dentists' offices, family medical offices and a day care. Workers from those offices said they had seen lots of cars with out-of-county plates coming and going, but that there were no other obvious problems from workers or patients of Lexington Algiatry, who mostly kept to themselves.

Police executing the federal search warrant at the pain clinic also did not comment. Investigators removed more than two dozen boxes, labeled "DEA evidence," from Lexington Algiatry.

The DEA was assisted by several other agencies, including state and local police and Attorney General Jack Conway's office.

Pain-management clinics have been a hot topic in Kentucky, in part because of concern about a so-called pill pipeline that has closely linked Kentucky to other states, including Florida and Georgia, where laws governing pain clinics have not been as strict.

Fly-by-night pain clinics, which had mostly been thought to be a problem in Eastern Kentucky, are now spreading across the state.

Gov. Steve Beshear earlier this month pledged to crack down on what police call "pill mills" — offices where doctors give people prescriptions for powerful painkillers with cursory examinations or none at all.

Kentucky lawmakers from both parties said they will support legislative measures aimed at reducing improper prescribing. The effort is a priority, they said.

Beshear has said that abuse of powerful pain pills and other prescription drugs is on the rise nationally, but Kentucky has one of the worst levels in the nation: 26 percent higher than the national average among young adults 18 to 25 years old.

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197.Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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