A federal jury has found Wichita-area pharmacist Ebube Otuonye guilty on charges of unlawfully dispensing opioid prescription drugs.
Otuonye, 46, of Bel Aire, Kan., was convicted on the following counts:
Conspiracy to unlawfully distribute prescription drugs (count one).
Unlawfully distributing prescription drugs (count two).
Health care fraud (counts three and four).
The U.S. Attorney for the District of Kansas, Stephen McAllister, said in a statement that the crimes occurred while Otuonye owned and operated Neighborhood Pharmacy at 2810 E. 21st in Wichita, where he filled prescriptions for patients of Dr. Steven R. Henson.
In October 2018, Henson was convicted of unlawfully distributing prescription drugs outside the usual course of professional medical practice and without a legitimate medical purpose. In March 2019, Henson was sentenced to life in federal prison.
Otuonye reached out to The Community Voice as his trial got started. “I feel the system has been very unfair towards me and the pharmacy,” he said.
During Otuonye’s trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Henson’s patients had difficulty filling Henson’s prescriptions at pharmacies other than Neighborhood Pharmacy. Otuonye’s pharmacy charged more than other pharmacies and he set up a system requiring Henson’s patients to fill three non-narcotic prescriptions when filling a narcotic prescription.
A sign in the pharmacy said: “You may use another pharmacy if all you want to fill is (a) narcotic prescription.”
Evidence shown at trial said Henson’s patients took their prescriptions to Otuonye himself because another pharmacist at Neighborhood Pharmacy refused to fill them, McAllister said. Prosecutors argued that Otuonye failed to perform his professional responsibilities by continuing to fill prescriptions for Henson’s patients despite warning signs including: Large numbers of prescriptions for highly addictive drugs, customers paying cash, multiple patients coming in at once with Henson’s prescriptions and patients from the same family presenting identical prescriptions.
Otuonye filled prescriptions for more than 21,600 tablets of oxycodone, more than 48,600 tablets of methadone, more than 18,000 tablets of hydromorphone and more than7,800 tablets of alprazolam.
Prosecutors also presented evidence that Otuonye submitted claims to Medicare and Medicaid for filling Henson’s prescriptions.
Sentencing is set for Oct. 23. Counts one and two carry a penalty of up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine up to $1 million. Counts three and four carry a penalty of up to 10 years and a fine up to $250,000.