The Chicago Tribune reports that Illinois officials have suspended a controversial psychiatrist’s license to practice. The doctor, Dr. Michael Reinstein, prescribed a dangerous antipsychotic drug called clozapine to patients in nursing homes and mental health facilities. Dr. Reinstein prescribed to drug to over half of the patients he was treating. The drug is linked to the potentially wrongful deaths of three of Dr. Reinstein’s patients, resulting in the doctor being accused of fraud. As it turns out, the accusations are substantiated.
The Illinois medical board suspended Dr. Reinstein’s license because it found that he received $350,000 in illegal payments from the maker of clozapine while he disregarded both the drug’s life-threatening effects and the fact that there were other safer treatment options for his patients. Clozapine increases the risk of death in elderly patients and can result in inflammation of the heart wall and seizures. It also has substantial side effects that are not fatal but that seriously impact quality of life, including but not limited to extreme constipation, bedwetting, night-time drooling, muscle stiffness, sedation, tremors, and weight gain. Prescribing such dangerous drugs unnecessarily is a serious type of medication error malpractice.
Dr. Reinstein’s license will be suspended for at least three years, but this move comes after years of investigation and legal proceedings. The chief medical coordinator for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) said of the case, “It is the mission of the department to protect every Illinois resident who consults with a healthcare professional, particularly vulnerable senior citizens in nursing homes . . . Dr. Reinstein’s actions, and his failure to adequately explain those actions to the department, led to last week’s suspension.
Years of Kickbacks from a Drug Maker
Dr. Reinstein has not given up his fight to keep his license. He still denies any wrongdoing and is seeking an injunction from a Cook County court to prevent the suspension. However, IDFPR says that Dr. Reinstein issued prescriptions of a generic version of clozapine and that in exchange he received $50,000 consulting agreements from Teva Pharmaceuticals and a subsidiary called IVAX. The drug maker also sent Dr. Reinstein on a fishing trip, a trip to Miami, and a cruise. The pharmaceutical company gave the doctor tickets to sporting events. This past March the company agreed to pay $27.6 million to settle claims related to its wrongdoing in this matter.
The investigation into Dr. Reinstein’s prescribing habits started back in 2009 when ProPublica and the Chicago Tribune began digging. In that investigation the journalists found that Dr. Reinstein had prescribed more clozapine to Illinois Medicaid patients in 2007 than had been prescribed by doctors to all of the Medicaid patients in Texas, Florida, and North Carolina combined. Between 2007 and 2009 he wrote an average of 20,000 clozapine prescriptions to Medicare patients each year.
The suspension, which will last for at least three years, is for an indefinite term. After serving at least three years of the suspension, the doctor could apply to have his license reinstated. It would then be up to the medical board to decide whether to reinstate the license or not. Reinstatement is not automatic.
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