—Assistant physician and Missouri state legislator indicted for wire fraud, other crimes
by Kristina Fiore, Director of Enterprise & Investigative Reporting, MedPage Today
February 4, 2021 – A Missouri state lawmaker and medical professional was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of selling fake stem cell treatments through her three clinics in the southern part of the state.
Assistant physician Patricia Ashton Derges (R) of Nixa, Missouri — elected in November 2020 to represent Christian County in southwest Missouri — was charged in a 20-count indictment for making false claims about the treatment, and for illegally providing prescription narcotics to patients at her clinics.
The investigation began in April 2020 when Derges went on a local TV station to promote stem cells for treating COVID-19. That month, she made similar claims in a Facebook post: “This amazing treatment stands to provide a potential cure for COVID-19 patients that is safe and natural.”
As questionable as stem cells are as a treatment for a number of illnesses, Derges went a step beyond — the products she sold didn’t contain any stem cells at all. Derges purchased sterile, filtered, acellular amniotic fluid from the University of Utah, prosecutors said.
Despite proof that the University of Utah director of cell therapy and regenerative medicine told Derges there were no live stem cells in the products, she marketed them as containing stem cells.
For instance, during an August 2019 information seminar, Derges told her audience that the amniotic fluid product she offered was a “stem cell shot” that contained mesenchymal stem cells, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors said she administered the fake therapy for a range of conditions, including tissue damage, kidney disease, COPD, Lyme disease, erectile dysfunction, and urinary incontinence, as well as COVID-19.
And those treatments came at a high cost. Derges purchased her products from the University of Utah for $244 per mL, but she charged patients $950 to $1,450 per mL, according to the indictment.
The five patients named in the charging document paid nearly $200,000 for those treatments from December 2018 to May 2020.
“Ms. Derges knowingly provided false information and made false claims about the medical treatment she was providing, and these falsehoods may have significant consequences for the patients she served,” Curt Muller, special agent in charge for the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement.
Derges was also charged with distributing oxycodone and Adderall over the internet without valid prescriptions. She employed assistant physicians at her Ozark Valley Medical Clinics in Springfield, Ozark, and Branson. These assistant physicians, however, could not write for schedule II narcotics, so Derges, who has a DEA registration, would file electronic prescriptions without seeing the patients, prosecutors said.
Derges, 63, maintains an active license, first issued in 2017, that lists no disciplinary actions and indicates she has controlled substance prescription authority. She earned a medical degree from the Caribbean Medical University of Curaçao in May 2014 but wasn’t accepted into a residency program. In Missouri, medical school graduates not completing residency but who pass Step 1 and Step 2 of the USMLE can apply to become an assistant physician. They must have a collaboration agreement with a licensed physician in order to practice.