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Salisbury doctor to serve nearly four years after over-prescribing opioids

SALISBURY — A Salisbury medical doctor who unlawfully prescribed oxycodone was sentenced to prison, announced Matthew G.T. Martin, United States Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina. Officials said one person to whom the doctor prescribed oxycodone died three years ago.

On Monday, Dr. Okechukwu Dimkpa, 50, was sentenced to a total of 46 months in prison by United States District Judge Catherine C. Eagles. Dimkpa was also ordered to serve three years of supervised release following prison and pay a $50,000 fine.

Dimkpa pleaded guilty on Sept. 11, 2019, to six counts of knowingly causing to be distributed oxycodone, a Schedule II controlled substance, while acting outside the course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose.

Court records show Dimkpa, an internist and former owner and operator of Care Plus Urgent Care in Kannapolis, was over-prescribing prescription pain medication, specifically, oxycodone. In 2016, investigators learned that Dimkpa was prescribing opioids to known “drug seekers” with little or no physical examination and for cash. One person who was prescribed oxycodone by Dimkpa died in 2016 from acute combined drug toxicity.

Court documents show that according to multiple witnesses, Dimkpa charged $400 for an initial consultation and $300 for each subsequent visit. The investigation soon focused on one of Dimkpa’s patients, Adam Cohen, who died in Florida on Aug. 28, 2016, five days after receiving a prescription for oxycodone from Dimkpa.

Investigators obtained Adam Cohen’s controlled substance reporting system data, which shows Dimkpa was prescribing him oxycodone even though he was routinely testing positive for heroin and cocaine.

Adam Cohen first saw Dimkpa on April 28, 2014. Dimkpa’s intake sheet indicates Cohen sought treatment for pain.

Investigators were able to locate and interview Adam Cohen’s brother, Jeff, who owned a dental office nearby Dimkpa’s clinic. Jeff Cohen advised that his brother, Adam, approached him in August of 2014, seeking help with his addiction to pain pills. In response, Jeff accompanied Adam to an appointment with Dimkpa. In Jeff’s presence, Adam advised Dimkpa that he did not have back pain, rather, he was addicted to pain pills.

In response, Dimkpa prescribed suboxone (designed to treat opioid addiction) to Adam. For approximately four months,. Dimkpa prescribed suboxone to Adam. For reasons unknown, in January of 2015, Dimkpa again began prescribing oxycodone periodically to Adam until his death on Aug. 28, 2016.

As part of the plea agreement, Dimkpa was required to surrender his DEA registration numbers, effectively barring him from prescribing controlled substances.

“Our office is focused on stemming the tide of opioid abuse by prosecuting opioid dealers, whether they are on the street corner or wearing a white coat in a medical office. This investigation demonstrates the exceptional coordination between federal, state, and local authorities to address the over-prescription of opioids,” said attorney Martin.

The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Health and Human Services, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Michael A. DeFranco.

This case was brought by the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit of the Middle District of North Carolina, which is focused on identifying and prosecuting medical professionals who are contributing to the opioid epidemic.

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