Published Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017 | 2:01 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017 | 3:40 p.m.
RENO — A Nevada doctor has become the first in the state to face criminal drug distribution and health care fraud charges under a federal push to stem so-called "pill mill" physicians dispensing large amounts of powerful opioid medications with no legitimate medical purpose, prosecutors said today.
Devendra Patel, 58, was arrested in Elko and was being transported in custody to Reno, where he was due for a detention hearing Wednesday in U.S. District Court, said Trisha Young, spokeswoman for Steven Myhre, the acting U.S. attorney in Las Vegas.
It wasn't immediately clear if Patel had a lawyer. Attorneys who represent him as plaintiff in an unrelated civil lawsuit against the corporate owner of Northeast Nevada Regional Hospital didn't immediately respond to messages about the criminal pill mill charges.
Patel is a cardiologist who also uses the name Devendrakumar Patel. He was the first person charged in Nevada under a U.S. Justice Department effort announced in August that made the state one of 12 with a federal prosecutor focused specifically on opioid fraud and abuse, Myhre said.
Federal officials say more than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016, mostly due to opioids including fentanyl.
Patel is accused from May 2014 to September 2017 of routinely overprescribing fentanyl, hydrocodone and oxycodone for patients and of fraudulently billing Medicare and Medicaid for medical tests that he did not perform.
His 39-count indictment includes 36 charges of distribution of controlled substances and three charges of health care fraud. Each count carries a maximum possible penalty of 10 years in prison, Myhre said.