Suspended physician Edwin Njoku is picking a jury this week in his trial on charges he sexually assaulted a patient at his East Hartford practice – one of several women who have come forward to say they were abused by Njoku. Now, newly available prescription data sheds light on another area of Njoku’s practice: the exceptionally high number of narcotic prescriptions written for his Medicare patients.
Federal data compiled by the investigative news site Pro Publica show that among at least 945 Connecticut internists who wrote Medicare-paid prescriptions in 2010, Njoku ranked No. 1 in the percentage of patients who were prescribed narcotics.
Across the state, internists wrote narcotic prescriptions for 16 percent of their Medicare patients, the data show. With Njoku, the figure was 48 percent – three times the statewide average and nine percentage points higher than his nearest peer.
While cholesterol and blood-pressure pills were generally the medications most frequently dispensed by Connecticut internists, Njoku’s top-prescribed drugs included a number of painkillers and muscle relaxants. For example, oxycodone-acetaminophen, a painkiller associated with significant abuse across the country, was the third most-frequently prescribed drug for Njoku’s 278 Medicare patients. For internists as a whole, the painkiller was the 54th most frequently prescribed drug for Medicare patients.
Njoku’s attorney, Norman Pattis, said that without reviewing the data, he and his client could not comment on Njoku’s prescribing patterns.
Painkillers paid for with Medicare dollars feature in at least one allegation against Njoku. In a lawsuit filed in February 2012, a patient alleges that Njoku gave her anti-depressants and painkillers, including Oxycodone, so she would “become reliant upon his services when he knew (or should have known) that such should not be combined and that such are addictive in nature,” according to the civil complaint.
The data collected by Pro Publica includes only prescriptions written for patients participating in the Medicare’s prescription drug program, and it is unclear if those patients composed a significant portion of Njoku’s practice. But the data do show that the demographic makeup of Njoku’s Medicare patients was unusual. Medicare primarily pays health care costs for elderly patients, but also serves those who are disabled. Across the state, 83 percent of internists’s Medicare patients were over 65. But for Njoku, the figure was 41 percent, meaning most of his Medicare patients were not elderly.
Pattis declined comment on that anomaly as well.
Njoku, 53, was first arrested in January 2012 and charged with sexually assaulting three women during office visits. Four months later, he was arrested again and accused of sexually assaulting three more women. Njoku also faces larceny charges for allegedly billing Medicaid for an office visit during which a patient said she was sexually assaulted.