SAN DIEGO - A doctor who works at an East County pain-control clinic was arrested and charged today with dispensing powerful painkillers to patients without legitimate medical reasons and providing the drugs to addicts in exchange for sex.
Federal agents took Dr. Naga Raja Thota, a board certified anesthesiologist, into custody Wednesday morning at his workplace in the 2700 block of Navajo Road in El Cajon, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
The 62-year-old Lake Murray-area resident made his initial court appearance this afternoon before Magistrate Judge Bernard Skomal. The judge ordered Thota released from custody as long as he posts a $100,000 property bond by Sept. 9.
During a several-year investigation, agents identified three alleged victims in the case, said Thomas Lenox, supervisory special agent with the DEA's Pharmaceutical Drug Task Force. Thota is accused of prescribing the women, ranging in age from early 20s to early 30s, various narcotics, including hydrocodone, methadone and oxycodone.
He allegedly went on to use the painkillers as "the carrot he held out" to his victims to coerce them into intimate relationships with him, according to Lenox. One of the women later moved on to heroin abuse, the DEA agent said.
Defense attorney Robert Schlein said Thota "cares about people" and "is not a predator," as authorities allege.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Orlando Gutierrez told the judge that Thota violated his duty as a doctor by prescribing drugs in exchange for sex acts.
Thota upped the dosage on a prescription for a 20-year-old women without telling her, and the woman felt she couldn't get more of the drug unless she performed sex acts on the defendant, the prosecutor alleged.
The defendant also bought a laptop computer and made a car payment for the woman, Gutierrez said.
Another woman threatened to take allegations of abuse to the DEA, and Thota paid her money not to do so, the prosecutor told the judge.
The U.S. Attorney's Office, citing a federal complaint, said:
The complaint said at least two young women received prescriptions for opioids without a legitimate medical purpose on numerous occasions in exchange for sex acts. The complaint also shows a pattern in which sexually-explicit texts are exchanged by the doctor and the women, followed by prescriptions written for them by Thota.
According to the complaint, one victim said she met Thota when she was hospitalized for withdrawal symptoms for Hydrocodone and Alprazolam. Thota agreed to treat her but documented that his treatment was for pain even though this victim did not suffer from any medical condition that caused chronic or ongoing pain. This victim also stated that Thota kept increasing the dosage.
This victim, who was twenty years old when she met Thota, said she felt that if she did not submit to sexual acts with Thota he would not have provided her with additional opioid prescriptions. After being exposed to greater dosage levels of opioids by Thota, the young woman started using an even stronger opioid – heroin.
"Prescription drug abuse and overdoses have reached alarming levels," said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. "We are going after doctors who abuse their power to prescribe and exploit the desperation of addicts for their own gratification."
"Doctors who exploit patients are the worst kind of predators." said DEA San Diego Special Agent in Charge William Sherman. "DEA recognizes the trust the citizens of San Diego place in their doctors. We will continue to ensure that physicians who are abusing that trust by bartering sex for prescriptions will be arrested and prosecuted."
If anyone has information regarding other victims or if you believe you were victimized by Dr. Thota, we urge you to contact DEA at (858) 616-4100 and ask for the Diversion Duty Agent.Under Title 21, United States Code, Section 841, and Title 21, United States Code of Federal Regulations, Section 1306.04(a), a medical doctor may not prescribe a controlled substance unless there is a legitimate medical purpose.