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Authorities raid suspected 'prescription mills'

Federal and local law enforcement officials close four medical clinics in the San Fernando Valley suspected of catering to addicts seeking heroin-like painkillers and other drugs.

September 02, 2011|By Lisa Girion, Los Angeles Times
  • Federal and local law enforcement officials raided four suspected "prescription mills" in the San Fernando Valley, including this clinic on Reseda Boulevard. The clinics are suspected of catering to addicts seeking heroin-like painkillers and other drugs.
Federal and local law enforcement officials raided four suspected "prescription… (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles…)

Federal and local law enforcement officials on Thursday raided four medical clinics in the San Fernando Valley suspected of operating as "prescription mills" that catered to addicts seeking heroin-like painkillers and other drugs.

The investigation into the clinics was prompted by the apparent overdose death of a Ventura County man last month, officials said. Authorities closed the clinics — three in Reseda and one in Van Nuys — because of alleged labor code violations, they said.

Agents also searched the Encino home of the manager of two of the clinics. They found $300,000 in cash and another $300,000 worth of the powerful prescription painkiller OxyContin, said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Steve Opferman.

The clinic manager, identified as Anush Davtyan, was arrested at her home, officials said. Authorities said they suspect Davtyan was involved in a scheme to sell the medication, which can fetch $30 to $80 a pill, on the black market.

The clinics employed eight physicians and physician's assistants at various times, including two whose names continued to be used to write prescriptions after they died, Opferman said.

Prescriptions and pharmacy bottles from the clinics have been found on drug suspects arrested in Arizona, Washington and several other states, drawing the scrutiny of investigators, Opferman said. Pharmacies in several states also made complaints about the quantities of addictive and dangerous drugs contained in prescriptions from the clinics, and some big chains would not honor them, he said.

Late last month, a 51-year-old Ventura County man died of an apparent overdose. The investigation revealed that he last obtained prescriptions for three drugs from one of the clinics, Opferman said.

"We felt a bit of urgency to shut them down," Opferman said.

A physician and physician's assistant who were inside one of the clinics when it was raided were interviewed for several hours and released. Both declined to comment as they left a Reseda Boulevard clinic late Thursday. One tied a plastic shopping bag over his head and held a newspaper across his face as he got into his car and sped away.

The clinics are the focus of ongoing investigations by several agencies, including the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Medicare Office of Inspector General. Investigators seized patient records and computers, authorities said.

lisa.girion@latimes.com

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