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West Hollywood doctor accused of running 'pill mill'

The psychiatrist sold prescriptions for medications to patients he did not examine and who had no need for the drugs, a federal complaint says. He and his office manager are arrested.

April 14, 2010|By Scott Glover

A West Hollywood psychiatrist and his office manager were arrested by federal drug agents Tuesday on suspicion of conspiring to illegally distribute highly addictive prescription drugs without a legitimate medical purpose.

Dr. Nathan Kuemmerle, 37, was accused of running a "pill mill" in which he wrote an average of 15 prescriptions for every five-hour day he worked, according to court records. Kuemmerle sold prescriptions for Adderall, Xanax and other medications to patients he did not examine and who had no need for the drugs, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

His office manager, Antonie "Tony" Phillips, 28, is accused of discussing with patients what drugs they wanted and preparing prescriptions for Kuemmerle to sign, the complaint states.

Both men are expected to make their initial appearances in court Wednesday. Neither could be reached for comment.

Kuemmerle was the No. 1 prescriber of the most powerful dosage of Adderall in California last year, federal authorities said. He was the second-largest prescriber of an entire class of federally regulated drugs, including the painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone.

"Dr. Kuemmerle's professional conduct has been egregious, grossly negligent, flagrantly incompetent and dangerous," Steven Ornish, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego, wrote in a report to prosecutors.

Adderall is approved for treating attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder but is sometimes used by people to remain awake for extended periods and to stimulate weight loss.

Oxycodone and hydrocodone are intended for the treatment of moderate to severe pain but are also favored by addicts seeking their opiate-influenced high, according to law enforcement sources familiar with the black market in prescription drugs.

The investigation into Kuemmerle began in August after Redondo Beach police arrested someone for attempting to sell Adderall on Craigslist, authorities said. That person told police that Kuemmerle was the source of the drugs and that the doctor had written numerous prescriptions without conducting any examination.

The 100-page complaint filed Friday against Kuemmerle is based on information from patients cooperating with authorities as well as on secretly recorded interactions between Kuemmerle and undercover police officers posing as patients.

According to an affidavit by Drug Enforcement Administration investigator Susannah Herkert, Kuemmerle gave patients several prescriptions at a time and told them to have them filled at different pharmacies to avoid suspicion. The doctor has also prescribed drugs to patients in at least 11 other states, another red flag for investigators.

At least one informant cooperating with authorities said Kuemmerle was a drug user himself, the complaint states.

While under surveillance, Kuemmerle called himself a "fame monster" at one point and suggested that there was a celebrity patient awaiting an undisclosed treatment in an adjacent room, authorities said.

At another point, he allegedly told an undercover officer posing as a patient that if he said anything, "I will hire the mafia and kill you."

scott.glover@latimes.com

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