Providers Named in Opana Case Receiving Legal Backlash While Others Continue Practicing

Michelle Rosenker

July 19, 2019

If you have been paying even the slightest bit of attention, then you should not be surprised to hear that Tennessee is once again at the forefront of the opioid crisis. 

The state has filed a lawsuit against Endo Pharmaceuticals, the company behind the production and sales of Opana ER, an opioid-based pain medication, in an effort to gain financial reimbursement for their role in the opioid crisis. 

Stating that Endo is “substantially responsible for the opioid epidemic in Tennessee,” the lawsuit alleges that sales representatives for Endo knowingly and strategically targeted professionals in the medical community who were less likely to have an extensive understanding about pain management and the medications used to treat conditions that produce pain. Maintaining a constant presence in facilities throughout Tennessee, Endo encouraged the continued sales of Opana ER in an effort to turn as much profit as possible, despite knowing how deadly this specific drug can be. As a result, between 2007 and 2014, providers in Knoxville alone prescribed nearly one million more Opana ER tablets than what was prescribed in Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago combined. 

Today, some of the providers named in the lawsuit have forfeited their license to practice while others have had them revoked. Some providers did not turn in their licenses until after receiving criminal charges. Others have been placed on a period of probation where they are to receive a stronger education about addiction and narcotics, while some are no longer allowed to prescribe controlled substances. The different levels of punishment range from one extreme to the next based on the involvement of the provider and his or her actions in the community in regards to prescribing practices. Much to the surprise of some, a handful of prescribers who have gotten into trouble for wrongfully prescribing Opana ER are still practicing today. 

medical malpractice

Tennessee’s Lawsuit Names Several Local Providers

Within the lawsuit, many of the Knoxville area’s providers have

been named as contributing to the opioid crisis through poor prescribing practices. Those providers include the following:

  • Julie Bliss, nurse practitioner (Powell) — Bliss was rated an “A” prescriber by Endo and is part of a group of providers that made up 50 percent of Opana ER prescriptions nationwide.
  • David Brickhouse, physician’s assistant (Knoxville) — Brickhouse was indicted in 2014 by a federal grand jury for conspiring to distribute controlled substances like Opana ER. He was also charged with money laundering. Two years later, he died in a motor vehicle accident.
  • Brandy Burchell, nurse practitioner (Knoxville) — The Department of Health Investigation determined that Burchell over-prescribed more than a dozen patients with controlled substances. In some instances, she provided monthly prescriptions that surpassed 1,000 morphine milligrams a day. For one patient, she prescribed 3,000 morphine milligram equivalents a day.
  • Christina K. Collins, nurse practitioner (Knoxville) — Collins was placed on probation on March 1st of 2018 for overprescribing several patients with high doses of morphine equivalents and short-acting benzodiazepines. At one point, she worked with Dr. McNiel, who is also named in this lawsuit.
  • Dr. Robert Cochran (Nashville) — Despite retiring in 2013 to avoid coming clean about his poor prescribing habits, it was found that 82 percent of the Opana ER prescriptions Dr. Cochran wrote were for high-doses.
  • Dr. Allen R. Foster (Knoxville) –Dr. Foster was found to have prescribed Opana ER in “amounts and for durations not medically necessary, advisable, or justified for a diagnosed condition.” His license was temporarily restricted in 2010 and then fully revoked in 2012 for “unethical conduct.”
  • Brenda Friend, nurse practitioner (Bristol) — The state determined that Friend did not provide proper examinations of patients before prescribing them painkillers like Opana ER. In 2017, her licensed was reprimanded and her practice will remain monitored for the next five years.
  • Dr. Yuchan Han (Chattanooga) — Dr. Han was reprimanded for going out of the country but leaving behind blank prescription forms that he had already signed.
  • Buffy Rene Kirkland, nurse practitioner (Maryville) — Kirkland was criminally charged for her dispensing of controlled substances. As a result, she voluntarily gave up her license to practice in 2017.
  • Jill Lorge, nurse practitioner (Lenior City) — Lorge was put on probation because she did not have the medical records to show why she prescribed as many prescription painkillers as she did. 
  • Dr. Frank McNiel (Knoxville) — Dr. McNiel was charged in 1994 for improperly prescribing narcotics, but he won an appeal in 1997 that overturned that charge. From 2006 to 2016, McNiel wrote out 15,196 OxyContin prescriptions. He voluntarily handed in his license in 2018.
  • Dr. Abdelrahman Hassabu Mohamed (Knoxville, Morristown) — Dr. Mohamed turned over his license after being charged with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and 10 counts of aiding and abetting the commission of that fraud.

Other medical professionals named in this lawsuit include the following:

  • Teodora Neagu, nurse practitioner (Knoxville) 
  • Dr. Samson Orusa (Clarksville) 
  • Marjorie Pickel, nurse practitioner (Lenior City) 
  • Dr. James Pogue (Nashville) 
  • Dr. Michael Rhodes (Springfield) 
  • Cindy Scott, nurse practitioner (Cookeville) 
  • Dr. Andrew Sugantharaj (Knoxville) 
  • Dr. William J. Williams (Morristown) 

Get the Help You Deserve Today

If you or a loved one are in Tennessee and struggling with addiction, JourneyPure’s Knoxville intensive outpatient clinic can help. Our experienced staff use a variety of therapy and evidence-based treatments so that you can recover not only from addiction but from the underlying issues as well. Call us today for a private consultation to learn more about your treatment options.