A look within the pain pill epidemic@
BY KAMEEL STANLEY,
c.2012 Tampa Bay Times@
One day last spring, Dr. Sanjeev Grover pulled into a Burger King parking lot near his home in Lutz. A former patient had arranged a meeting. The doctor got into the man's car and handed over four prescriptions he wrote for the painkiller oxycodone 240 pills, 80 milligrams each. Grover had not examined the man beforehand. That made the prescriptions illegal. The former patient gave him $2,000 in cash.
They met again and again over the next few months. Grover gave him at least 36 prescriptions. In all, more than 5,000 pills. The doctor got $10,000.
Grover didn't know it, but the man was a Drug Enforcement Administration informer.
In October, agents arrived at Grover's home and slipped handcuffs around his wrists. His arrest along with several other doctors dealing prescriptions and pain pills was announced by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in Tampa.
Grover lost his medical license. He took a plea deal and will be sentenced in a Tampa courtroom today . He faces up to 20 years in prison.
Once, Grover had a fellowship at prestigious Duke University. He was a university professor. He treated cancer patients.
So how did he go from being a respected doctor to dealing pills outside a fast food restaurant?
The answer is simple: greed.
Grover, 49, pleaded guilty in March to federal charges of dispensing and distributing oxycodone.
He recently agreed to an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, offering a seldom-heard perspective about a prescription drug epidemic that kills an average of eight people a day in Florida.
"I don't believe in hiding myself anymore," he said. "Barring what has happened and what will happen to me I still want to let the public know what's going on."
Grover said he didn't set out to be a pill mill doctor. He never wanted to be a physician at all.
He was born in Boston in 1963. His father, a medical researcher, moved the family to India in the 1970s.
Grover said he loved writing and movies and envisioned a career in the arts. His parents had other plans. He attended high school and medical school in India. He returned to the United States in the late 1980s.
He attended Philadelphia's Albert Einstein Medical Center in the mid 1990s and Duke for an oncology fellowship. He became an assistant professor at the West Virginia University School of Medicine. He helped open a children's oncology unit.
A few years later, he was ready to slow down. He wanted to spend more time with his wife and children. Today, his son is in college and his daughter is in high school.
The family moved to Florida in 2004, so Grover could take over a pediatric practice. He inherited more than 200 patients.
But Grover struggled to pay the bills. Overhead was high. Competition was heavy. He closed the business in 2008. His family lost its home.
He didn't work for months. He considered going into research. He tried writing a screenplay.
Then, he said, a pharmacist called with an offer to work at a pain clinic in Zephyrhills.
Grover had experience helping cancer patients manage pain. He thought it was a perfect fit.
But this is what he found: Cars with license plates from all over the country packed into the parking lot. Patients complaining of the same ailments a bad back, a sore neck. They never stayed longer than 10 minutes or so.
"I realized these people are addicts," Grover said. "That was my first eye-opening moment."
But the money was good.
Grover said he made about $5,000 a week. That income grew when he agreed to the Burger King deals.
"I was like a robot," he said. "I sold scripts for money because I was greedy."
In December 2010, a recruiter told Grover about a pain-management clinic in Palm Harbor.
He says people at Whitney Enterprises told him they wanted to turn it into a legitimate general practitioner's office, a place where parents could take their kids for physicals. Grover thought that sounded like a nice change.
But it was more of the same. Same out-of-state visitors. Same short visits. Same craving for pills.