McHENRY – State regulators temporarily suspended a McHenry doctor’s license after a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation found the general practitioner had prescribed large quantities of opioid pain medication to patients with little oversight.
A complaint filed Monday by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation against Raman I. Popli – a general practitioner who has worked in the McHenry area for more than 14 years – claims that he was “inappropriately prescribing controlled substances to the patients of his private practice,” according to court records obtained by the Northwest Herald.
A nearly yearlong investigation by the DEA’s Chicago Field Office found that Popli prescribed more than 350,000 dosage units of controlled substances between June 2014 and May 2016. This included 167,000 dosage units of hydrocodone, 86,000 dosage units of Xanax, 50,000 dosage units of oxycodone and more than 28,000 dosage units of Klonopin, according to court documents.
Popli’s license was temporarily suspended Monday pending a hearing before a disciplinary board at 10 a.m. Friday in Chicago. Popli had not hired an attorney as of Tuesday afternoon, a spokesperson with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation said.
Two undercover officers posing as patients in need of pain medication visited Popli’s office, 5415 Bull Valley Road, McHenry, as part of a sting last summer. Popli gave both officers prescriptions for hydrocodone during their first visits, even though both presented several “red flags.”
On July 25 and Aug. 10, two undercover officers went to Popli’s office and posed as patients complaining of discomfort or soreness. Without any thorough examination or X-ray, Popli prescribed both officers Norco after they requested it.
Weeks later, on Aug. 15, both officers contacted Popli’s office separately, and they each were told they had been taken out of the system and the doctor would not treat them any further. Both officers also were sent a letter from Popli’s office that read, “Your name has been flagged by the DEA (along with a few others), and I have been informed by the DEA that you need to be referred to a pain specialist and that I should not be prescribing chronic pain medications to you.”
Popli was reportedly interviewed Feb. 14 by two DEA officers who told him he was being investigated after a concerned pharmacist from McHenry contacted the agency to report that he was overprescribing and allowing patients to get early refills more than once a month. The officers told Popli that he allegedly authorized about 1,800 hydrocodone prescriptions and about 1,500 Xanax prescriptions.
A Wal-Mart pharmacist in Johnsburg who was interviewed by police said that Wal-Mart has a corporate list of doctors who prescribe a high number of opioid medications, and Popli was on the list.
“She told the doctor that as a general practitioner, he should start referring his patients to a pain clinic to keep him from getting in trouble with the DEA,” court records said.
When Popli was asked whether he had been contacted by a pharmacist about overprescribing, he said he did not remember any of those conversations.
Popli also was asked about giving a patient early refills, and he said “he did not give early prescriptions and that he checked the Prescription Monitoring Program so this did not happen,” according to court documents.
The DEA officers told Popli that state records show he gave the same patient 120 Norco tablets 10 times between January and July 2016.
In response to this, Popli said the patient had issues with her back and needed the medication.
He gave another patient 4,161 tablets of morphine sulfate, 3,120 tablets of Soma, 3,000 tablets of oxycodone, 2,555 tablets of Xanax and 180 tablets of Valium over a two-year period. Asked about the prescriptions, Popli told investigators that the patient “had a back problem.”
Investigations also asked the doctor whether he was using the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program to track prescriptions.
“After Popli logged on to the Illinois Prescription Monitoring Program (to show officers), Popli began to perspire on his face, which led to actual sweat dripping from his forehead,” court records said.
Investigators also told Popli he had 250 patients from Wisconsin who were being prescribed pain medication. The doctor said he didn’t think the number of patients was alarming since “Wisconsin was close by.”
He also was informed that 29 patients received the “Trinity combo” of medications, a drug regimen that includes at least one opioid, a benzodiazepine and carisoprodol, a muscle relaxer. This combination of medications gives users the effect and “euphoria of heroin use,” according to court documents.
When confronted about prescribing patients with hydrocodone on the first visit, Popli said he would never prescribe the drug on a first visit with a new patient. Officers then told him he had done so with the two undercover officers who posed as new patients, “without X-rays or much of an examination.”
An officer also showed Popli the prescription the second officer was given during his first visit, and he confirmed it was his signature on the document, according to court documents.
Popli then was asked about the letter he had sent to the two officers, and he said “he made up the letter so he would not have to see the patients because he did not like confrontations,” court records said. He also said he did not want to tell patients “no” on the first visit, so he would give patients prescriptions and then send the letter to end the relationship.
“Popli indicated that he did not see anything wrong with him prescribing narcotics to the patients once and then sending them the discharge letters because Popli did not like confrontations,” court records said.
Popli admitted to sending 30 letters to new patients in the past year.
Brian Zachariah, chief medical coordinator of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and a licensed physician for about 29 years, said that after reviewing documents related to the case, “the continued practice of medicine by Raman Popli, M.D., presents an immediate danger to the safety of the public in the state of Illinois.”
Popli was unavailable for comment Tuesday, as he was away from the office because of a “family emergency” and could not be reached, his receptionist said.
The receptionist also was unsure when he would return.
By the numbers
Number of prescriptions written between June 2014 and May 2016: 350,000 dosage units of controlled substances
Number of pills prescribed to a single patient in a two-year period: 4,161 tablets of morphine sulfate, 3,120 tablets of Soma, 3,000 tablets of oxycodone, 2,555 tablets of Xanax and 180 tablets of Valium
Number of out-of-state patients: 250
Source: Court records summarizing DEA investigation