Dayton doctor pleads guilty in federal opioid case

A Dayton doctor that federal authorities once called the highest prescriber of controlled substances in the state pleaded guilty Friday for illegally distributing opioids.

Dr. Morris Brown, 75, admitted writing prescriptions for patients in amounts and for lengths of time that were outside the scope of legitimate medical practice, according to the U.S Department of Justice.

Brown continued prescribing opioids “even after learning that some of his patients had experienced overdoses, and in some cases, deaths,” read a federal indictment unsealed last April.

RELATED: Feds on Dayton clinic, pharmacy: 1.75 million pills in 2 years

Brown pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful distribution of controlled substances before U.S. District Judge Walter Rice. Brown is scheduled to be sentenced May 8.

The owner and operator of Dayton Primary and Urgent Care Center Inc. at 301 W. First St. in Dayton, Brown was one of 60 people charged last April in the largest prescription opioid crackdown in U.S. history.

Brown owned the building and leased space to Dayton Pharmacy housed off the waiting room. The Justice Department alleged Brown operated a pill mill, funneling prescriptions to the pharmacy, which dispensed over 1.75 million pills during a two-year period.

On Friday, Brown admitted to distributing approximately 73.5 kilograms of opioids by converted drug weight, according to a Justice Department news release.

MORE: Ex-sheriff on medical pros busted in opioid ring: ‘It’s very frustrating’

He also admitted routinely prescribing controlled substances even though various “red flags” suggested he should stop writing those prescriptions for patients, change the prescriptions and/or counsel patients accordingly. Further, Brown admitted that he prescribed dangerous combinations of drugs known to heighten the risk of overdose and death, according to the Justice Department.

Brown was charged along with four other men connected to the pharmacy: Ismail Abuhanieh, 50, of Phoenix, Arizona; Mahmoud Elmiari, 44, of Bellbrook; Yohannes Tinsae, 48, of Beavercreek; and Mahmoud Rifai, 50, of Detroit, Michigan in April 2019.

The four co-defendants were charged for agreeing to obtain controlled substances by fraud or misrepresentation. Elmiari and Tinsae have entered guilty pleas and are scheduled to be sentenced May 13. Abuhanieh is scheduled for a change of plea on March 10. Rifai is the subject of an active arrest warrant, according to the Justice Department.

A vast majority of the 60 defendants charged last April were medical professionals. The Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force enforcement action spanned several states and 11 federal districts.

MORE: Dayton ‘pill mill’ doctor sentenced to nearly six years in prison

Abuhanieh, Rifai and Tinsae were all licensed pharmacists associated with Dayton Pharmacy, and Elmiari was the manager, according to court documents. Brown’s medical license was permanently surrendered in 2018.

It was between October 2015 and October 2017 that the government alleged 1.75 million pills went out the facility’s door, including oxycodone, methadone, morphine, fentanyl, alprazolam, endocet and more, court records showed.

The height of the Dayton-area’s opioid crisis came in early 2017. In May that year — which remains the deadliest month ever for overdose deaths in Montgomery County — 81 people died. The opioid crisis took 70,000 American lives that year and Ohio emerged as one of the worst-hit states behind only West Virginia in terms of overdose deaths per capita.

From 2013 to 2017, Brown was paid more than $250,000 by pharmaceutical companies for consulting services and lectures, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services doctor payment data. Each of those years his payments by drug makers far exceeded the national average.

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