Crime - Sacto 911

Doctor busted prescribing opioids to undercover agents

A Modesto doctor is charged with selling opioid prescriptions for cash and faces 20 years in federal prison, the U.S. Attorney's Office Eastern District of California announced Thursday.

Dr. Sawtantra Kumar Chopra, 71, a pulmonary and sleep medicine specialist, was arrested Thursday morning at his home in Modesto. He faces a 23-count indictment in the case. He allegedly prescribed opioid to "multiple patients outside of the usual course of professional practice" and without a legitimate medical purpose, said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra at Thursday's news conference.

Pharmacies in Sacramento called in tips that lead state and federal officials to investigate Chopra, officials said.

Between March 2017 and March 2018, four undercover agents purchased opioid prescriptions for hydrocodone, Xanax and Promethazine mixed with codeine syrup, according to United States Attorney McGregor W. Scott. The pain relievers are highly addictive and can lead to overdose death.

The agents represented themselves as patients whose doctors stopped prescribing the opioid, Scott said. One of the agents received a prescription after presenting an X-ray of a healthy body part.

Chopra frequently would write a prescription without performing a medical examination, Scott said.

A map at a press conference showed patients traveled from as far as Sacramento, San Francisco and Merced to Chopra's practice in Modesto to get prescriptions. His practice is associated with Memorial Medical Center in Modesto.

"As you can see from the map here, it's obvious this doctor was prescribing well beyond what was necessary," Becerra said.

In March, the Drug Enforcement Administration suspended Chopra's right to issue prescriptions, Scott said.

Investigators are still working to establish the scope of Chopra's opioid prescribing practices, Scott said.

Chopra received a physicians license in 1975, according to documents from the Medical Board of California.

In 2002, Chopra was convicted of receiving illegal kickbacks for referring a patient to an oxygen company for which he was the medical director. He was sentenced to three years of supervised probation and paid a $75,000 fine, according to records from the Medical Board of California.

In 2014, Chopra and his wife, Aruna Kumari Chopra, were booked at the Stanislaus County Jail on forgery and impersonation charges related to a 26-year-old land deal in Danville.

Chopra, who faces 20 years in federal prison, is being held in the Fresno county jail.

Follow more of our reporting on Health Care Workers

See all 10 stories
Related stories from Sacramento Bee