CONCORD — A former physician assistant who was one of the largest opioid prescribers in the state was sentenced to four years in federal prison for his role in a kickback scheme involving a potent fentanyl spray, federal prosecutors said.
Christopher Clough, 45, of Dover was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Concord for participating in a scheme where he received kickbacks in exchange for prescribing the spray to patients in violation of federal law, U.S. Attorney Scott Murray announced.
“Mr. Clough is no better than a street level drug dealer,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, a special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division. “He exploited his patients, betrayed their trust, and accepted kickbacks for his own personal enrichment.”
Clough’s sentence comes on the heels of the conviction of five former executives of Insys Therapeutics, including its founder, onetime billionaire John N. Kapoor, in federal court in Boston. They were convicted of racketeering conspiracy for bribing doctors such as Clough to prescribe a highly addictive painkiller to patients who didn’t need it and tricking insurers into paying for it.
Clough wrote more than 750 prescriptions for Subsys, a fentanyl spray designed for late-stage cancer patients when they get a spike of pain. He received $50,000 in kickbacks payments from Insys. Payments from Medicare and the Veterans Affairs health care program Tricare amounted to more than $2.5 million.
The kickbacks were speaker fees for little attended dinner meetings at high-end restaurants in Boston and Porstmouth.
“We thought in a way he was duped from the people at Insys. They took advantage of him,” said Clough’s lawyer, Patrick J. Richard of Boston. Richard said Clough plans to appeal the verdict.
In a note submitted in the Clough case, a patient identified as Colleen P said Clough had tried to get her to reduce her medications for months. But starting in June 2013, he started writing precriptions for Subsys, doubling it once and then again.
She fell asleep while talking and eating. Friends stopped coming over. Her husband stopped taking her out to eat and threatened to leave her.
“Subsys was a poison and I paid the price when I was given such a high dose and ended up losing my job and could have lost my life as others have,” she wrote.
But she asked that Clough not be sent to prison for many years, noting he has lost his license and will not be able to support his family.
Clough was convicted of one count of conspiracy and seven counts of receipt of kickbacks in relation to a federal healthcare program. A jury found Clough guilty on Dec. 18, 2018 following a six-day trial.
Clough worked for Somersworth Pain Care of New Hampshire, which at its height had 10 clinics across the state. He was one of the largest prescribers of opioid and pain-related medication in the state earlier this decade, according to previous newspaper articles.
In 2016, the New Hampshire Board of Medicine permanently revoked his license.
Each defendant in the Insys trial faces up to 20 years in prison, according to the Boston Globe. They will remain free while they await sentencing.
Union Leader reporter Mark Hayward contributed to this article.