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A Livonia-based doctor was sentenced Wednesday to more than 12 years in prison for his role in an $18 million prescription drug scheme.

Dr. Zongli Chang had pleaded guilty in the case.

He told prosecutors that from January 2012 through May 2017, “recruiters” brought fake patients to his office. "Chang would, in turn, write medically unnecessary and highly addictive controlled substance prescriptions in return for cash payments," typically at least $150, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement. 

The recruiters would transport the patients to pharmacies, where the prescriptions for substances such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and codeine syrup were filled then illegally distributed, according to the release.

“We entrust physicians to care for their patients in a manner that is consistent with their oath to do no harm,” said Timothy Slater, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Detroit Division. “Prescribing opioids with the knowledge that the drugs would ultimately be distributed illegally contributes to the ongoing opioid addiction crisis and cannot be tolerated.”

Since the charges were unsealed in January 2018, six of the seven patient recruiters involved also have pleaded guilty to the conspiracy, investigators said Wednesday.

The state suspended Chang’s medical license in 2017 for over-prescribing controlled substances.

Besides handing down a 135-month sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Sean Cox ordered Chang to pay a $1 million fine. Chang also agreed to a $3 million forfeiture judgment satisfied largely by assets seized near the time of his arrest, authorities said. 

U.S. Attorney Schneider noted that “this sentence sends a strong message to every other physician that deliberately writes unnecessary opioid prescriptions, knowing full well that the drugs will ultimately be sold on the streets, that they will be treated no differently than any other major drug dealer.  A medical license will not shield them from criminal consequences.”
 

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