CROWN POINT — A doctor and two advanced practice nurses have been charged with illegally prescribing medications out of clinics in East Chicago and Gary.
Dr. Geoffrey Onyeukwu, 69, of Gary, and nurses Francis Nwawueze, 57, of Matteson, Illinois, and Akeem Kareem, 47, of Winfield, each is accused of illegally prescribing medications to an undercover informant working with the Drug Enforcement Administration between September 2018 and November 2019.
The informant first saw Onyeukwu on Sept. 27, 2018, at Northwest Immediate Care, 2010 E. Columbus Drive in East Chicago, and received a prescription for the benzodiazepine Xanax, Lake Criminal Court records state.
Onyeukwu shook hands with the informant, but did not perform a physical examination or psychiatric assessment, Lake Criminal Court records state. Indiana law requires prescribing physicians to perform a physical examination.
Onyeukwu did not diagnose any mental illness before prescribing the medication, attempt any alternative treatments or offer any treatment plan or counseling, records allege.
John Cantrell, attorney for Onyeukwu, said the doctor is an "amazing physician" and the charges are "unfounded."
"We dispute the facts contained in the charging documents," Cantrell said. "Dr. Onyeukwu has been practicing medicine for over 36 years and he takes pride in providing treatment to the underserved communities in Northwest Indiana."
According to court documents, the informant returned to the East Chicago clinic Oct. 26, 2018, and Kareem refilled the Xanax prescription without performing a physical examination. Kareem allegedly wrote the informant prescriptions for Xanax and Ambien on Nov. 16, 2018.
When the informant returned to the East Chicago clinic Feb. 8, 2019, he or she told Kareem, "Let's double it," in reference to the Ambien prescription. Kareem wrote a prescription for Ambien at double the dose of the informant's previous prescription, records allege.
The informant visited Nwawueze on June 18, 2019, and July 23, 2018, at Northwest Procedures and Medical Center, 3814 Grant St. in Gary, and received prescriptions for Xanax and Ambien, according to court records.
As Nwawueze wrote the informant more prescriptions Aug. 20, 2019, the informant said he or she wanted to lose weight and asked for an additional prescription for one of several brand-name amphetamine drugs. Nwawueze delivered a prescription for Ritalin to the informant at the front desk, documents allege.
When the informant saw Onyeukwu on Oct. 16, 2019, the doctor refilled the Xanax and Ambien prescriptions, but said he couldn't write a prescription for Ritalin "because he had to protect his license," records state.
Onyeukwu again refilled the informant's Xanax and Ambien prescriptions Nov. 6, 2019, records state.
Onyeukwu was charged with five counts of dealing in a controlled substance by a practitioner, a level 4 felony, and two counts of unlawful possession or use of a legend drug, a level 6 felony.
Nwawueze is facing seven counts of dealing in a controlled substance by a practitioner.
Akeem was charged with five counts of dealing in a controlled substance by a practitioner and one count of use of a fictitious registration number, a level 6 felony.
Onyeukwu and Kareem each posted bond and have initial hearings set for July 22 and 20, respectively. Nwawueze posted bond after an arrest Monday, but no initial hearing date was listed yet, online records showed.
DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Michael Gannon commended the Lake County prosecutor's office, the Indiana attorney general's office and the U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General for their work on the case.
"During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to remember we are still in the midst of a prescription drug crisis that is claiming the lives of thousands of United States citizens each year," Gannon said. "It is of the utmost importance that physicians and nurse practitioners who illegally prescribe controlled substance medications be brought to justice."
Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter said drugs pose a serious health hazard and thanked the DEA, the attorney general's Indiana Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and HHS inspector general's office for their work.
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said he was pleased his office was able to work with federal partners in an investigative role.
"Addiction and substance abuse have devastated communities in Indiana and across the nation," Hill said. "The illegal prescribing of medications is one of many illicit practices that have contributed to the overall drug crisis."
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