A Manteca oncologist has agreed to pay the federal government $550,000 after an investigation concluded that he fraudulently billed public insurers for cancer treatment drugs that weren’t approved for use in the United States and then dispensed them to his patients.
Dr. Prabhjit Purewal, a longtime Manteca cancer doctor, agreed to pay $550,000 for defrauding Medicare, Tricare and Medicaid by billing the public insurers for chemotherapy drugs that were not approved that U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
According to a press release from the United States Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of California, Purewal, over the course of two years, purchased non-FDA approved medication from a pharmacy in England – referenced as “Richard’s Pharma or “Warwick” – and then administered the drugs to his patients.
An online search of a British company of the same name returns a Wall Street Journal article from July of 2013 that tells the story of Richard Taylor – who operated a company named Richard’s Pharma – that sold a counterfeit Turkish version of the blockbuster cancer drug Avastin, which slows down the growth of new blood vessels. When one patient in Missouri started shaking during a transfusion of Taylor’s Turkish import, the story spells out, the FDA seized the package and determined that none of the active ingredient was present in the mixture.
Purewal, according to the press release issued on Feb. 24, purchased multiple chemotherapy drugs from the company over the two-year span.
Taylor was sentenced in 2013 to 18-months in prison and was fined $800,000 by the United States for his role in the importation of the dangerous drugs.
“Patients – especially those battling cancer and other life-threatening illnesses – should be able to trust that their physicians only use medicines approved by the FDA, medicines proven to be safe and effective,” said Special Agent in Charge Ivan Negroni of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. “Our agency will continue to pursue health care providers that ignore requirements designed to protect patient health and federal health care programs.”
Purewal will have to pay back the amount to the United States, and to date has already put $400,000 towards the massive tab.
A phone call to his office on Tuesday seeking comment was not returned.
“Ensuring that patients receive FDA-approved prescription drugs from the legitimate supply chain is an FDA priority, “ said Lisa Mlinowsky, Special Agency in Charge of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations. “For drugs that enter the U.S. from outside that protected system, there is no guarantee that the drug is FDA-approved, not counterfeit, or otherwise lacks safety or effectiveness. We will continue to work to protect the health of patients who rely on prescription drugs and to ensure the safety and effectiveness of those drugs.”