Doctor who traded cash for pills sentenced

DOWNEY - A doctor who maintained clinics in Downey and the Westlake District was sentenced Wednesday to 84 months in federal prison for distributing powerful and addictive painkillers to "patients" he did not examine and who simply paid cash for prescriptions.Nazar Al Bussam, 72, of Newport Coast, was sentenced by United States District Judge S. James Otero, who remanded the doctor into custody. In addition to the prison term, the judge ordered Al Bussam to pay a $125,000 fine and to forfeit more than $450,000 in profits derived from his drug trafficking activities. Al Bussam pleaded guilty in July to 18 felony charges, including conspiracy and distributing controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose. A state database shows that Al Bussam, during a nearly three-year period that ended with his arrest in October 2010, was the number one prescriber of controlled substances in the entire state of California, and that he wrote about two-thirds more prescriptions than the next most prolific doctor. In a plea agreement filed in United States District Court, Al Bussam admitted that on numerous occasions in 2009 and 2010 he distributed oxycodone, hydromorphone, hydrocodone, alprazolam, and promethazine with codeine. He admitted that he wrote prescriptions for these narcotics outside of the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose. Al Bussam sold the prescriptions to individuals for cash, and the individuals later filled the prescriptions at pharmacies. "Doctor Al Bussam operated what was essentially a wholesale narcotics store hidden under the cloak of a medical clinic," said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. "Al Bussam knowingly gave narcotics to drug addicts and sold to street-level dealers who are spreading diverted pharmaceuticals - and the pain of drug dependancy - across this country." Timothy J. Landrum, the Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Los Angeles, stated: "Every day, more than 7,000 Americans begin abusing prescription drugs. Prescription drug abuse has risen to epidemic levels, which is having devastating effects on families and communities. (Wednesday's) sentencing sends a clear message to individuals such as Nazar Al Bussam that there will be serious penalties for those who choose to line their pockets with money at the expense of those vulnerable to these drugs." Al Bussam wrote prescriptions to cash-paying customers and undercover agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Medical Board of California. According to court documents, Al Bussam came to the attention of the DEA in 2007 when the agency discovered Al Bussam was among the top 10 prescribers of controlled substances in the Los Angeles area. In addition, several pharmacies in the Los Angeles area had contacted the DEA regarding Al Bussam's unusual and suspicious prescribing practices. An affidavit previously filed in this case noted that several of Al Bussam's "patients" were arrested in California and Texas for illegally selling drugs prescribed by the doctor. As part of the investigation, undercover operatives went to Al Bussam's clinic, saw the doctor and purchased prescriptions for various controlled substances, paying $200 in cash for each prescription on the first visit, and $100 in follow-up visits. "On nine occasions, defendant [Al Bussam] prescribed controlled substances to undercover agents posing as patients, without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the scope of professional practice," prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo. The undercover buys "make clear that defendant was a drug dealer and a drug pusher, coaching patients to invent stories about fake injuries and pains, encouraging them to take additional, unneeded controlled substances, and falsely assuring them that the drug cocktails he prescribed were not dangerous." According to court documents, the DEA reviewed records related to Al Bussam prescriptions and estimated that in recent years the doctor received well over $1 million annually from illicit prescriptions. The investigation in this case was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which received assistance from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Medical Board of California.

********** Published: October 06, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 25