Las Vegas Sun

August 24, 2019

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Las Vegas doctor accused of illegal distribution of opioid

A Las Vegas doctor arrested on Tuesday is accused of falsifying information to prescribe a potent opiate painkiller, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Steven Holper, 66, was indicted on seven counts of distribution of Fentanyl and 22 counts of providing a false statement relating to a health benefit program, federal officials said.

Fentanyl is about 100 times more powerful than morphine and up to 60 times stronger than pure heroin, officials.

The drug and its variations in 2016 killed roughly 20,000 people in the United States, about 540 percent increase in a three-year period, according to the New York Times.

Fentanyl is strictly available to cancer patients who’ve become tolerant to other strong pain medications, and its distribution is tightly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, officials said.

Holper, a pain management doctor in Las Vegas, allegedly was prescribing Subsys, a variation of Fentanyl, which is only available to cancer patients, to people not diagnosed with the illness.

Subsys is packaged in canisters that shoot a spray of Fentanyl-based drug to the patients’ mouths to provide almost immediate relief, according to the manufacturer.

According to Holper’s criminal complaint, he prescribed a patient the canisters — and other opioids — from April 2013 to June 2015.

When that stopped, and beginning the following month to March 2016, Holper provided that person the canisters without a prescription, court records show.

In March 2016, the patient died when he or show somehow obtained a used canister from Holper’s house, and used a tool to break the canister, injecting the remaining Fentanyl, according to a criminal complaint.

That person’s death was deemed accidental, but if he or she hadn’t obtained the drug from the used canisters received from Holper, that person would not had died when that person did, according to the complaint.

Investigators found hundreds of Subsys canisters in that person’s bedroom, bathroom, vehicle and workplace, the complaint said.

Additionally, from November 2013 to March 2017, Holper falsified statements to Medicare and private insurance companies for 22 patients without cancer to obtain the drug, officials said.

Holper testified for the defense during the trial of War Machine, a former mixed martial arts fighter who last year was sentenced to serve 36 years to life for kidnapping, beating and sexually assaulting his ex-girlfriend and brutally beating her friend.

"Our great country has never before seen the levels of addiction and overdose deaths that we are suffering today. Sadly, some trusted medical professionals like doctors, nurses, and pharmacists have chosen to violate their oaths and exploit this crisis for cash—with devastating consequences. Our goals at the Department of Justice for 2018 are to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions, the number of overdose deaths, and violent crime, which is often drug-related,” said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a news release.

The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Henderson police.

Anyone with information of the possible illegal sale of a drug or distribution of prescription opioids by medical care professionals is asked to call the DEA at 1-877-792-2873.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.