A hospital pharmacy in Harlan County filled fraudulent prescriptions for a stimulant that an emergency-room doctor wrote for other hospital employees and their family members, the federal government charged in a lawsuit filed Monday.
The lawsuit is against Appalachian Regional Healthcare, which is headquartered in Lexington and operates nine hospitals in Eastern Kentucky.
The government is seeking $3 million in penalties.
A spokesperson for the hospital chain was not available after U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey’s office announced the lawsuit Monday afternoon.
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The lawsuit centers on the drug phentermine, a stimulant used to help people lose weight. Used incorrectly, it can produce a “high” and keep someone from falling asleep, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit charged that Dr. Donald F. Ramsey, who worked in the emergency room at the Harlan ARH hospital under a contract with a third party, wrote prescriptions for phentermine to nurses, other employees and family members of some employees.
Employees filled the prescriptions at the hospital pharmacy, the lawsuit said.
The complaint charged that Ramsey did not do proper examinations before writing the prescriptions and that he wrote them for double the standard recommended dose.
Ramsey wrote fraudulent prescriptions for phentermine at least 83 times to nurses, other staff members or employees’ family members from January 2012 to March 2014, the complaint charged.
Employees paid cash for the pills, even while using their insurance for other prescriptions, the lawsuit said.
Hospital officials received reports of concern over the prescribing but did not intervene with Ramsey or tell the pharmacy to stop filling the orders, the lawsuit said.
The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure began investigating in 2014 after receiving a tip that Ramsey was prescribing double doses of phentermine and that employees might be using the drug to stay awake on night shifts.
Eight ARH employees — including five nurses — admitted they’d obtained phentermine prescriptions from Ramsey without the required testing, the lawsuit said.
Two nurses also admitted Ramsey wrote prescriptions for the drug for their family members, whom Ramsey had not met, the lawsuit said.
Ramsey admitted getting some of the pills from employees and using the drug to stay alert, the lawsuit said.
The licensure board said Ramsey had a substance-use disorder involving stimulants that prevented him from practicing medicine “with reasonable skill and safety,” the lawsuit said.
Ramsey indefinitely gave up his license to practice in April 2015.
The lawsuit alleged that thousands of pills were dispensed improperly to ARH employees and family members, according to Harvey’s office.
It also charged that ARH pharmacies in Hazard and Middlesboro did not make accurate records of controlled substances, preventing the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration from accurately auditing ARH or determinng whether drugs had been diverted for illegal use.