Federal investigators arrested a Hanapepe doctor and searched his clinic Friday for allegedly prescribing large amounts of opiate narcotics to two patients without meeting them in person, according to Hawai‘i U.S. Attorney Edward Kubo.
Dr. Harold C. Spear faces a federal prison term of up to 20 years if convicted of “knowingly and intentionally distributing or dispensing Schedule II drugs,” or highly addictive substances legal for medical use.
The charges stem from information uncovered during a June 2006 search of Spear’s Hanapepe Clinic, at 3897 Hanapepe Road, as well as a subsequent undercover investigation.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office submitted a criminal complaint yesterday morning in U.S. District Court. The affidavit serves to “get the case going,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney William Shipley, who was assigned to prosecute the case.
There is no grand jury indictment as of yet, though Kubo said it does not appear to be far off.
“I expect Dr. Spear to be indicted before the preliminary hearing,” Kubo said.
Spear, who spent the weekend in jail on O‘ahu, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie Kobayashi in Honolulu yesterday afternoon for an initial hearing. Spear was released on a $50,000 signature bond and he surrendered his certificate to issue prescriptions, Kubo said.
A preliminary hearing was set for June 25.
This is not Spear’s first run-in with the law; his clinic was searched twice last year by federal agents regarding his over-the-phone prescription practices.
The first search on March 8, 2006, resulted from a Food and Drug Administration investigation into an Alabama pharmacy that ran the Web site www.athomescripts.com and paid doctors to write prescriptions over the phone, which the pharmacy then filled and delivered via mail.
Federal law enforcement identified Spear as one of the pharmacy’s many participating doctors and worked with the state of Hawai‘i to secure a search warrant for Spear’s clinic.
The investigation established that Spear did not conduct exams and did not establish a “legitimate doctor-patient relationship,” as required by law, when prescribing opiate narcotics, states yesterday’s complaint.
As a result, the U.S. Attorney’s office began its own probe, which led to a second search on June 27, 2006, Kubo said.
At that time, federal agents uncovered medical records showing that Spear prescribed 1,950 milligrams of oxycodone and 600 milligrams of methadone to a patient in April 2005, according to the complaint. Spear also prescribed 240 milligrams of OxyContin to another patient in May 2005, according to the complaint.
Kubo confirmed that both prescriptions were issued over the phone.
A few weeks before the June search, two undercover federal agents and a witness in California contacted Spear to request prescriptions, Kubo said.
According to the complaint, Spear wrote a prescription for the witness, who then introduced the doctor to one of the agents. Spear called the agent and went on to write her a prescription for 120 tablets of hydrocodone with guaifenesin and Viagra for her “boyfriend” (the other agent).
Both agents received their prescriptions and were charged $175 by Spear for an “office visit,” states the complaint.
The document also alleges that Spear allowed his untrained assistants to complete refills during weeks-long absences from the Hanapepe clinic.
“His administrative staff was clearly authorized to fill in his blank prescriptions for refills of opiate narcotics, which are the most highly addictive drugs there are,” Kubo said.
Kubo noted that Spear’s business consisted of a mixture of in-state and out-of-state patients.
He worked primarily with two pharmacies specializing in mail-order prescriptions: one in Alabama and another that Kubo said he could not identify at this time.
“It is our intent to continue to show our presence on the island of Kaua‘i and continue to crack down on drugs,” Kubo said.
Spear’s own Web site, www.dial-a-doc.com, offers “immediate care and prescriptions … throughout Hawai‘i and beyond.” The site contains office, cell and two toll-free phone numbers for Spear.
“Don’t hesitate to call right away and begin immediate therapy of your condition,” states the site. “Prescriptions delivered directly to you, or called in to your local pharmacy.”
Following yesterday’s hearing, the Attorney General’s office has until the preliminary hearing to secure an indictment, at which point the case has 70 days to go to trial.
Kubo said the Alabama investigation could “conceivably” bring more charges against Spear for his involvement with the Mainland pharmacy.
In addition, Hawai‘i’s Department of Public Safety has been conducting its own investigation into more than 300 pre-signed, blank prescriptions found at the clinic during the March 2006 raid.
Keith Kamita, chief of the department’s Narcotics Enforcement Division, said the state has worked with federal agents on the case. He said federal charges will be prosecuted before any state charges.
• Blake Jones, business writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or firstname.lastname@example.org.