Physician's assistant faces federal case for allegedly overprescribing opioids, ignoring patient 'red flags'

James J. Berg, who operated out of the Traverse City area, had taken on patients from another doctor who was accused of forcing sexual favors in exchange for opioids in 2018
Doctor James J Berg
Posted at 5:24 PM, Aug 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-12 17:24:37-04

GRAND TRAVERSE COUNTY, Mich. — A Michigan physician's assistant is facing a federal case for allegedly overprescribing opioids, in some cases to patients that he picked up from another doctor in 2018 after they lost their controlled substances license for allegedly trading sexual favors for prescriptions.

James J. Berg is accused, in documents filed this week in federal court, of violating the Controlled Substances Act, for allegedly writing prescriptions for controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose.

Berg operated as a physician's assistant out of Hope Clinic for Muscle & Joint Pain in Traverse City.

The Hope Clinic began in 2014, but in September 2018, their office took on a large set of patients after another doctor was charged by the attorney general's office with allegedly forcing female patients to trade sexual favors for prescriptions.

Jonathan Robertson, D.O., was an osteopathic physician at the time of his 2018 charging.

Many of Robertson's patients were located in the Muskegon area and began commuting hundreds of miles to visit Berg after making the switch.

The court documents describe the situation, saying, "Despite the numerous red flags surrounding these patients — including the arrest of, and allegations against, Dr. Robertson involving his prescribing behavior, the dangerous combinations of prescribed controlled substances (high doses of opioids combined with carisoprodol), and the fact that many of these patients were located approximately 130 miles away in Muskegon — Mr. Berg took many of Dr. Robertson’s former Muskegon patients into his own practice in September 2018."

The documents filed this week allege that Berg prescribed over 1,300,000 "dosage units of prescription opioids" in the period of time ranging from Jan. 12, 2017 through Nov. 20, 2019.

They describe six different patients in the documents going through situations that should have been deemed "red flags" by any physician prescribing potentially dangerous medications to them.

One of those patients, referred in the documents as 'Patient K.T.,' was a 35-year-old woman from Muskegon who was driving about 260 miles round trip to see Dr. Berg each visit.

K.T. was allegedly on a steady regimen of hydrocodone, methadone and methylphenidate that sat "well above" CDC guidelines.

Berg is alleged not to have required K.T. to take a drug test when she began seeing him, but months later when she did, she apparently tested positive for cocaine — a result that should have prohibited her from receiving further opioids from Berg's office.

She was temporarily kicked out of the practice, receiving a letter from the doctor saying in part,“As of the receipt of this registered letter, you will not receive any more medicine prescriptions or refills from this office. This decision will not be reversed by appeal."

But K.T. did appeal that decision, and apparently wrote to Berg, "What would Jesus do?” and “Your [sic] turning a 100% Innocent person away for some false information.”

The documents allege that Berg relented and allowed her back into his clinic to receive prescriptions.

The complaint filed against Berg in the Western District of Michigan United States District Court asks the court to impose a fine of $67,627.00 and to bar him from ever prescribing controlled substances again.

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