A San Diego County doctor who pleaded guilty to illegally and fraudulently prescribing painkillers to some patients who did not have a medical need for them has been sentenced.
Naga Raja Thota, M.D., 62, previously pleaded guilty to seven counts three months after he was arrested at the Pain Management Center located at 2732 Navajo Rd. in El Cajon during a raid by federal authorities. He has since given up his medical license and practice, according to his attorney.
Thota was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Orlando Gutierrez. As part of the conditions of standard term of supervised release, he cannot dispense or prescribe medicine, own a medical clinic and more after release, Guttierez said.
“Pain pill addiction has become a serious public health problem that is causing an increasing number of fatal overdoses nationwide. To make matters worse, in this instance prescription opiate addiction led, as is often the case, straight to a dangerous heroin habit,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Alana Robinson in a statement. “We will continue to vigorously enforce the law against doctors who abuse the prescribing privilege and exploit desperate addicts for their own purposes.”
According to the criminal complaint filed after Thota's arrest in August, the doctor was accused of writing prescriptions for 1,460 Oxycodone pills and 660 tablets of Hydrocodone over a six-week period in 2013.
In a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office, Thota admitted to writing seven fraudulent prescriptions to three different people several years ago, according to his attorney Robert Schlein.
“Dr. Thota has never denied any of the actions he did with regard to those seven prescriptions or that he had a personal relationship with one of the patients,” Schlein said.
Thota’s relationship with the patient lasted several months, Schlein said.
According to U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy’s office, Thota pleaded guilty to seven counts of “superseding information.” He admitted to illegally prescribing patients with oxycodone and hydrocodone tablets, sometimes writing the prescription under the names of a brother and father of one patient.
Federal agents served search warrants on Thota's medical practice on Navajo Road on May 27, 2015. The doctor was interviewed by investigators at the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Diego on June 4, 2015, mainly about prescriptions he wrote for patients mentioned in the complaint. He met again with the feds on Dec. 15, 2015, while in the presence of his defense attorney, the complaint says.
Search warrants were then served on Thota's medical practice on Navajo Road on March 16, 2016.
After Thota’s August 31 arrest, more than two dozen people accused him of prescribing painkillers to them in exchange for sex, according to Amy Roderick with the DEA, who spoke with NBC 7 in September.
Schlein said the charges have to be put into context. His client began practicing medicine in 1979 and moved his practice to California in 1995.
“The government has decided to go after doctors who have had prescribing problems,” the attorney said.
The result of Thota’s arrest has been “catastrophic”, according to Schlein.
“He has paid a heavy price for it but he’s accepted responsibility for it,” he said.
Thota's maximum exposure for the seven counts was 20 years in prison, $1 million fine and life-term of supervised release.