Prescription drug investigation

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Indianapolis - Feb. 23 - There are new details emerging in the prescription drug abuse case involving Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.

Eyewitness News first reported the investigation in 2002, documenting a pattern of prescription drug abuse, including several stints in rehab and at least three overdoses, by Irsay. A federal investigation into the matter resulted in no criminal charges, but now recently filed civil complaints by both state and federal authorities are targeting a prominent local doctor and a north side pharmacy and its employees.

The documents tell a tale of too many prescriptions, high prices and a major settlement of one federal complaint.

That complaint against Dr. Gregory Chernoff, who has run a respected north side plastic surgery practice for years, was filed last year and settled in September. According to the federal complaint and a separate one filed by state Attorney General Steve Carter earlier this month, Chernoff in 2001 and 2002 committed numerous violations of state and federal laws regarding controlled substances.

Chernoff is accused of improperly prescribing large quantities of powerful prescription drugs like Hydrocodone and Norco to Irsay, referred to in the documents as patient one, even when Chernoff knew the Colts owner was addicted. In one instance, the state claims, Chernoff continued to prescribe drugs after Irsay relapsed following a rehab stint in San Diego.

The complaint suggests Irsay paid excessive fees for the prescriptions and says Chernoff sought $125,000 from Irsay for even more drugs.

"We don't think the prescriptions were for medically necessary reasons," Carter told Eyewitness News. "That was not in keeping with good professional standards."

Carter's office filed licensing actions earlier this month against Chernoff and the pharmacy and pharmacists Charles Lindstrom, Daria Crawford, and Deborah Derolf - who filled the prescriptions he wrote.

According to the state, Chernoff responded to the investigation by saying he was easily manipulated and almost "pathologically anxious to please."

But Carter said the responsibility in cases like this lies with the medical professionals, not the patients.

"Obviously the consumers were participating in the matters but I think it's important to recognize they're the vulnerable ones," he said.

In Chernoff's federal case, filed in October, he paid a $100,000 settlement without admitting wrongdoing. He still faces the state licensing complaint, however. His attorney, Larry Mackey, released a statement Tuesday saying the doctor will "fully cooperate" with the licensing board review.

"Dr. Chernoff has treated thousands of patients during his career," the statement said. "With all of his patients, Dr. Chernoff provides the best care he can. The subject matters are in some instances more than five years old and have no relationship to Dr. Chernoff's current practice."

The pharmacy that filled the prescriptions he wrote, Nora Apothecary, faces a state complaint alleging multiple violations of controlled substance laws. Eyewitness News has learned that the pharmacy is also subject to a still-pending federal complaint filed in October. The complaint says Nora violated federal statutes after improperly dispensing controlled substances.

Investigators claim the pharmacy issued prescriptions without physician authorization and honored post-dated prescriptions and even those without dates. The alleged violations hold a potential for more than $3.6 million in fines.

Tom Farlow, attorney for the pharmacy, denied any legal violations and said Nora and its owner, Charles Lindstrom, have cooperated with federal and state officials.

"Nora is not guilty of the offenses that are alleged in that complaint," Farlow said.

He also questioned the timing of the complaints, which address activities dating back five years, and said the state is merely piling on with its licensure action.

"To resurrect these allegations and try to deal with them at this time is wrong," Farlow said.