Pubdate: Wed, 22 Oct 2003
Source: Tahoe Daily Tribune (South Lake Tahoe, CA)
Copyright: 2003 Tahoe Daily Tribune
Author: William Ferchland


A South Lake Tahoe doctor has been accused of prescribing highly addictive 
drugs to people who didn't need them and committing fraud against Medi-Cal.

Joseph Simon, 72, was arraigned Monday in El Dorado County Superior Court 
on eight counts of drug diversion and one count of fraudulent medical 
claims. Both charges are felonies.

Visiting Judge Thomas Smith released Simon on his own recognizance. A Nov. 
10 court date will schedule his preliminary hearing.

Simon is charged with overprescribing drugs such as OxyContin, a federally 
controlled narcotic. OxyContin, an opiate-based pain reliever that has been 
compared to heroin, made recent headlines when conservative radio 
commentator Rush Limbaugh admitted he was addicted to the drug.

Simon, reached at his office at 3447 Lake Tahoe Blvd. by phone, referred 
questions to his counsel Richard Specchio and Pasadena-based Tracy Green.

"My instructions are to refer you nice men and women to (them)," Simon said.

Green and Specchio did not return phone calls.

An investigation was started in February 2002 by SLEDNET, South Shore's 
drug enforcement team overseen by the California Department of Justice and 
comprised of authorities in surrounding agencies. Chris Elliott, task force 
commander of SLEDNET, declined comment

The agency received tips Simon was reportedly overprescribing. Search 
warrants of patient records and evidence obtained during the investigation 
led to the charges, according to officials.

The attorney general's office began investigating in September 2002. Simon 
allegedly caused pharmacies to present fraudulent claims to the Medi-Cal 
program when he would prescribe medications without medical necessity.

The complaint, filed by Deputy Attorney General Sharon Lueras in the Bureau 
of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse, cited eight people by first name and 
last initial who were allegedly prescribed drugs "without legitimate 
medical" purposes between October 2001 and October 2003.

The false claim to Medi-Cal occurred somewhere between August 1999 and 
August 2003.

Officials at Sierra Recovery Center said people in South Lake Tahoe started 
abusing OxyContin about three years ago. It's chewed or snorted to bypass 
the time release.

Angela Brown gave a survey to South Tahoe High School seniors last year and 
was astonished by the amount of teenagers who wrote they have used the drug 
called "Oxi" or "O."

"They all do it," she said. "It's a huge problem."

Herb Dean, a counselor at Sierra Recovery Center, said OxyContin is usually 
consumed once a day compared to Vicodin which is consumed one every four to 
six hours.

Unfortunately, Dean said, people are starting to add it to their other 
abusive vices.

"You do see it (in Tahoe.) That's the bad rap." he said. "But it is a very 
effective medication if used properly."

Christina Clem, a spokeswoman with the attorney general's office, said an 
estimated $1 billion to $3 billion per year is lost in Medi-Cal fraud. 
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