BILLINGS — UPDATE: 10/2/2020: 8:10 AM –
Dr. Ronald Buss, Go Figure Co-owner & Medical Director, issued the following statement to MTN News:
“Today, I pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors as part of a plea agreement so I can return my focus back to my passion – helping obese people change their lives and lose weight. The agreement stems from a short period of time several years ago when I pre-signed some prescriptions for weight loss medications for clients who had ALL undergone medical screenings by myself or in some cases a nurse practitioner. I am a former emergency room doctor who has been practicing medicine since 1979. At no time was the health of any of our clients at risk. In addition, these drugs have been FDA approved for weight loss since 1973. This was nothing more than a technical oversight as demand for our services grew. After a few months, we moved to a more streamlined process of calling in the prescriptions to pharmacies.
“At Go Figure we have helped thousands of clients lose weight and lead healthier lives. We currently have approximately 200 active clients taking prescription weight loss medication and learning how to eat right and lose weight. What we do works, and it drives my passion to take care of people. It is so gratifying to see how we change people’s lives.”
A Bozeman doctor admitted Thursday to charges that he illegally dispensed appetite suppressant drugs at two weight loss clinics in Bozeman and Billings, U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said.
Dr. Ronald M. Buss, 71, pleaded guilty to an information charging him with two counts of unlawful dispensing and distribution of controlled substances by the registrant, a misdemeanor. Buss faces a maximum of one year in prison, a $100,000 fine, and one year of supervised release on each count.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Cavan presided. Buss was released pending further proceedings. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
Court documents filed by the prosecution said that in 2009, Buss became the medical director for Go Figure, a weight loss clinic in Bozeman, and a year later became the director for Go Figure in Billings. Buss is registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration and is authorized to dispense controlled substances. His registration number has been used at the two Go Figure clinics for controlled substance prescriptions.
Go Figure has prescribed three types of weight-loss drugs: Phendimetrazine and Benzphetamine, both Schedule III controlled substances, and Phentermine, a Schedule IV controlled substance. These drugs are amphetamine-based and intended for short-term use. The drugs also are indicated only for severely overweight or obese individuals and may be contraindicated for people with some health conditions.
In August 2016, the Billings DEA received information from a pharmacist that Go Figure was illegally dispensing these three controlled appetite suppressants from its clinic. In July 2016, Buss began pre-signing prescriptions for Go Figure staff to complete. Go Figure had no medically trained staff other than Buss. An employee at the Billings clinic told investigators Buss pre-signed prescriptions for new and current clients, and that staff would choose one of the three drugs, its strength, directions for use and complete the written prescription. Patients paid $50 per week to be weighed, have their blood pressure taken and receive a prescription for one week’s worth of the selected drug.
At the Bozeman facility, an employee told law enforcement that she was a “consultant,” met with patients and prescribed controlled substances on blank, pre-signed prescriptions from Buss. Staff repeatedly questioned the practice but were continually assured Go Figure had special permission to do so and that it was legal. In addition, the employee said that from 2009 to 2016, the Bozeman facility was dispensing the appetite suppressants directly from the clinic without issuing written prescriptions.
Employees further said Buss did not meet many of the patients for months or years after they began taking the drugs. In some instances, Buss never saw the patients at all. Patients confirmed to DEA investigators that they rarely, if ever, met with Buss.
When interviewed, Buss admitted to investigators to pre-signing blank prescriptions and not seeing patients until after they started taking the drugs. Buss claimed that was only way to run the practice effectively.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Karla Painter is prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration.