Did Al Gross fuel the opioid epidemic in Juneau? - Must Read Alaska
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Did Al Gross fuel the opioid epidemic in Juneau?

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CANDIDATE’S PRACTICE COINCIDED WITH CAPITAL OPIOID CRISIS

During the time that Senate candidate Dr. Al Gross was practicing bone and joint medicine in Juneau, an opioid outbreak of epic proportions took hold of Alaska’s Capital City.

At one point, the entire baseball team was in trouble because so many players had been popping OxyContin in a city awash in drugs.

This is the part of his professional medical history that Gross never talks about. What did he see, as a prescriber of these addictive medications? How did that impact his life and his decisions? Has the mainstream media ever inquired about his role in opioid misuse?

The probability is high that at least some of those addictive drugs were prescribed by Gross, either to grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters, or to youth themselves.

Many pills get into the hands of the young because the kids find the pain killers in the medicine cabinets of their relatives, and for a couple of decades, opioid prescriptions were easy to come by.

When Gross practiced medicine in Juneau, it was the era when drug companies were rewarding physicians handsomely for prescribing pain meds.

“After almost 20 years of supporting Juneau’s community as a successful Orthopedic Surgeon, Dr. Al Gross left his private Orthopedic practice,” Gross claims on his campaign website.

Gross’ retirement was in 2013, the same year he was sued for medical malpractice, a case that was settled in 2017 for an unknown sum.

What Gross also doesn’t say is that when he went back to college to study health policy, there was a raft of desperate pain pill addicts back in Juneau. Some of them would eventually die from drug overdoses.

He doesn’t mention his role in the epidemic nor discuss the nature of the malpractice suit that coincided with his retirement.

He also does not discuss that he serves as an expert witness in malpractice lawsuits, nor that he owns almost $1 million of stock in Big Pharma companies like Johnson & Johnson. Gross owns $100,000-$250,000 in J&J stock. That company was sued for its involvement in the opioid crisis and ordered to pay $572 million in a landmark opioid trial in 2019.

Instead, Gross talks about health care costs and the need for guaranteed health care for all. In fact, this is where he has put his entire focus, when it comes to his health care policy; in 2017 he started a petition to put Obamacare Medicaid expansion in the Alaska Constitution. That effort collapsed in failure, never making it to the ballot because Gross couldn’t gather the signatures.

But before he became a champion for guaranteed health care for all, he had been earning $2.5 million a year as a surgeon working 3-4 days a week. Nearly half of his income came from referring people to tests on equipment owned by his own clinic, a form of self-dealing that has ethical implications.

According to a report in the Anchorage Daily News by Charles Wohlforth in 2017, Gross earned 500 percent more than his colleagues Outside Alaska, while his expenses were only about 30 percent higher.

Juneau was clearly in an exploding crisis during the time Gross was practicing bone and sports medicine there, raking in his millions.

According to a report from the Juneau Empire, “over a six-year period from 2006-2012, nearly six million prescription pain pills were supplied to the city of Juneau. That’s enough for 27 pills per person, per year. In the entire state of Alaska the number of pills was over 138 million.”

By 2009, high school athletes in Juneau were subjected to a new policy by the school board, that included random testing. In spite of objections from civil libertarians, the crisis had gone too far.

Gross had been working as an orthopedic surgeon in Juneau since the early 1990s, a full decade as the crisis grew around him. There is no trace of him expressing professional concern or community involvement during those years to address the crisis.

“There’s been kids on our team that can’t focus to play a game without using the drug before it,” one player told the school board at the time, as reported by the Juneau Empire.

“It’s not just drugs and sports,” another player said. “It’s throughout the halls, the classrooms, it’s everywhere and out on the streets.”

A school district task force finally recommended that each week the athletes would be subjected to random testing for OxyContin, marijuana, opiates, cocaine, alcohol and tobacco.

A database maintained by the Drug Enforcement Agency, which tracks pain pill distribution, shows even more pills going through Juneau in those years than was reported by the Empire — from 2006 to 2014 there were 7,828,210 prescription pain pills supplied to the Capital City.

Some 2,727,320 of the pills were distributed by Cardinal Health and 4,663,500 were manufactured by SpecGx LLC. Fred Meyer pharmacy received the highest number of pills, the DEA reports.

There is no way to know how many of those pills were prescribed by Dr. Gross, and he was making his millions before strict state tracking systems were put in place.

To be clear, the opioid crisis was exploding in other communities across the country, not just Juneau, as doctors prescribed these powerful pain killers.

During this era, opioid overdose was responsible for one in five deaths among young adults, according to the American Medical Association.

“It was clear to Dr. Al that Alaska’s economy was being held back by these high costs of health care and that the system was rigged against normal folk, and he wanted to get involved to improve it,” Gross writes of his life story as a surgeon in his hometown of Juneau.

“A rigged system against normal folk,” is the Gross description of health care in America. Not a mention of incentivized opioid prescriptions and how they robbed people of their lives and cost the State of Alaska nearly $200 million a year in public safety, therapeutic court, Medicaid, and other costs.

Must Read Alaska is seeking confidential comments from people who may have been overprescribed pain medication or lost love ones to addiction in Juneau, from about 1993-2013. Send an encrypted message to [email protected]

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Thank you Suzanne for bringing basic information to light.

  • You gotta ask yourself why this hasn’t been asked by the rest of the media. Courtview is out there for everyone to check. Are they covering for Al? Very curious.

    • In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the rest of the so-called media are Enemies Domestic.

    • Yep, Courtview is out there for everyone to check. It takes about 60 seconds. It reveals that there has been only the malpractice suit we’ve all heard about, and nothing else.

  • Dr. Al wasn’t saying a word because he was too busy cashing checks.
    .
    And Al, take that chew out of your lip. It causes cancer.

  • My husband had a knee replacement (not by Al Gross) and he was in unbearable pain. Opioids are standard for this kind of post-surgical pain. It would have been malpractice for a doctor to have refused to provide him with the meds.

    As you say yourself: “There is no way to know how many of those pills were prescribed by Dr. Gross.” Exactly. There is no evidence behind your accusations.

    • Hes acted a deceptive man, we know that much from his campaign thus far. If he weren’t, he wouldn’t be lying about his party affiliation and positions. A rich guy wants to run for a political position, fine. Go spend your money and tell us who you are. This rich guy takes huge amounts from far left organizations and then lies about who he is and what he supports. Does that mean he gave out too many opioid prescriptions? No, not by itself, but it does lend to an assessment of the mans character. Deception is not any quality we need more of in DC, neither is poor judgment. He’s demonstrated both so far, and it’s not a stretch to think he has earlier in his career.

    • If you have netflix view the documentary : The Pharmacist. It will open your eyes on opiods.

  • Gross profited from a medical system he now says he wants to reform?

    Thanks for fantastic journalism!

    • It’s common to get fed up with a rigged system and want to change it. Medicaid and Medicare are much more able to track what patients are prescribed. Dr Gross is advocating a better healthcare system with more Medicaid which would bring problems to light, not hide them. I had a knee replacement in Anchorage. I was prescribed a lot of Oxy. I didn’t need all of it. Once I counted my prescription pills in front of the pharmacist as I was given the prescription. The bottle was short four pills. I called them out on it and reported. Bringing Dr Gross into this, at this point in the election is political and patently unfair as hundreds of doctors in Alaska prescribed oxy legit or otherwise.

      • Medicaid and Medicare are rife with fraud because they pay a pittance and encourage more procedures over outcomes. They are about the worst players in the game. They have ridiculous rules that in most cases do not adhere to common sense and punish ethical providers and those who abuse the system alike. As bad as private insurance can be, Medicare is worse. As with all leftist things, they make everything equal, by creating a system that does nothing good and serves no one.

  • Character assasination based upon an admitted and complete lack of evidence.

    “There is no way to know how many of those pills were prescribed by Dr. Gross…”.

    A definite race to the bottom between Trump and the ever-expanding MRAK media empire, when it comes to shamelessness.

    For proper news, head to the ADN, PBS, or the NYT, folks. For ad-hominem attacks and baseless insinuation, tune in to Breitbart, Limbaugh, Hannity, Laura, and…MRAK.

    And by the way, please change the horrible music on your new Podcast. It’s as irritating as the actual content.

    • If you don’t like it, don’t listen. Gross is a deceptive liar. While that would probably make him right at home in the swamp, it’s not what we need more of. Rich Liars buying the votes of the people who are either willingly enslaved or easily duped.

      • Sounds a lot like one Donald J. Trump, my friend…

  • The opioid problem in Juneau is staggering. It’s much worse there than in Anchorage, a city 10x its size.

  • When I first moved to Juneau in late ’09 I couldn’t believe how bad the drug scene was. It was just as bad as the city I left, Tacoma, Wa. All Oxy. Doctors made lots of money and got huge perks for prescribing this “medicine.” The big pharmas would send doctors on lavish vacations and luxurious golf trips. I’m sure Mr Gross was party to this. Lots of blame to go around but it sounds like he never raised any concerns about it.

  • The other odd thing about Dr Al the Kiddie’s Pal is how you turn a ortho practice in a small Alaskan town into a $2.5 million/year operation. Inquiring minds want to know. Cheers –

    • Specialist doctors make a lot of money in small rural markets like Alaska. Supply and demand.

  • This is great reporting! The Alaska medical community in many cases charges much more than the same treatments and therapies cost in any other state, in no small part because government pays for more of the health care here than in other states. At the same time many medical professionals around the nation were well paid, legal drug pushers for an extended period of time. It’s the height of deception for Al Gross to not come clean on this! At some point anyone involved in this legal drug trade would identify it for what it is, for what business he was actually in; drug pushing called health care. All of us are victims, even if we personally eschew painkilling drugs, and Al Gross has been a major beneficiary. Now he is spending that money to be sent to Congress by us. What a travesty, and what a tragedy for the victims.

  • Now that Gross made his millions as a Doctor, he is going to save the common folk from those greedy Doctors, really.
    Good article no surprise that the Alaska Media avoids looking at a paper thin candidate.
    So far Gross s only claim to fame is killing a Coastal Brown Bear in self defense. I twice in my life have had to defend myself from bears in the Bush, a dark subject, not one to brag about. I definitely did not take photos of the experience as though it was a Hunting Trophy.

    .

    • Joe: you forgot about the research he did to discover that Alaska is right next door to Canada!!!

    • It’s really strange they made that a campaign point, killing a bear.

  • Ten percent of populations will become addicted. Cannot blame it on orthopedic surgeon. More education is needed for everyone including health care providers. At least our youth will have a fighting chance with a medically trained Senator compared to the other person

  • Desperate conjecture, Sullivan must be in trouble. Very sleazy.

  • Al Gross is one bad apple. He is the type of person you hear about that ruins the reputation of others within his profession. His actions and expressed views is proof that he is in it for just himself. I find his, “I’m a gun owner…” comment hysterical and pandering, comparable to sleepy joe’s despacito moment and crooked hillary’s hot sauce moment. Thanks Suzanne on the great reporting.

  • Sorry folks, but this is speculation. It is an unanswered question, not any kind of information. As much as I would like to see Dr. Al Gross be exposed as the leftist political hack I believe he is, this is too much.

    “The probability is high that at least some of those addictive drugs were prescribed by Gross”

    If Dr. Gross was a surgeon, there is a 100% probability that he prescribed opioids. To inflate that fact into “he fueled the addiction epidemic” is a stretch without any corroborating evidence.

    Is an unanswered question, not any kind of evidence of wrongdoing. It is where the investigation starts, not where the conclusions end. There are a LOT of reasons to be cautious about Al Gross (as there are for anyone seeking political office), but to publish this is disingenuous. This is what I would expect from a political attack ad, not a journalist.

    • “This is what I would expect from a political attack ad,…”.

      Congratulations you win the game. This is exactly what this “article” is; an attack ad by a political hack, not journalism by a journalist left or right leaning. Where’s the smoking gun linking anything back to Dr. Gross. You can replace Dr. Gross’ name with any other doctor (D or R) and the article doesn’t get any better.

      I think Senator Sullivan is running scared for a variety of reasons, including Justice Ginsberg’s death and his prior comments on Supreme Court appointments within proximity to a Presidential election and the Pebble Tapes to name two. I highly doubt that the Senator is directly involved in commissioning this piece, but I can guarantee a Republican operative is.

      It is not going to be a good night nationally for Republicans on November 3rd and that is unfortunate. Alaska might fare ok…

  • This is how many docs get wealthy. His yacht was likely purchased on a percentage take on prescriptions written by him. Opiods suppress breathing, and when contraindicated with benzodiazapines, they could stop the heart. Before we say that Dr. Feel-good Gross negligently caused any deaths or addictions, someone needs to investigate how many medical malpractice lawsuits were filed against him. That information can be ascertained. And I hope it is investigated.

  • Almost 5 years ago my best friend had a knee surgery whom the medical team pushed her to take double the dose of Oxy and Percocets for pain so results in therapy could be shown . The sad consequence was total paranoia and a split up which is now in court as there is no reconciliation. The drugs took her too far. This is just a touch of what we are being subjected to also from whom we trust to be benevolent sadly … Seriously but on a National scale look into the eyes of those that call themselves Antifa and BLM. Look for that human quality we see in others. The element is missing in these that seem so intent on burning and destroying all that is good, Well dig a little deeper and remember the huge push to get every kid that sneezed sideways on Ritalin… Folks that shit is a soul stealer and the bi-product is burning down our Nation…. Im afraid Good guys don’t always wear white. Ritalyn burns out the receptors and qualities that make us human ,,, These kids are victims of a very sinister plot. Vaccinations Opioids Ritalyn Fluoride Chemicals in food . We better face it we are under assault and people get paid huge bucks to run the farm….er Pharm.

  • Al Gross is the epitome of why so many Alaskan healthcare providers were such fervent supporters of Medicaid expansion in Alaska – it is the proverbial gold mine.

  • I find it very interesting that you write this article bashing Dr. Al Gross when he is tied with Sullivan in the Alaska Senate race and after the Pebble Mine tape scandal revealing Sullivan to be the liar he is. Dr. Gross has my vote!

    • Sullivan has my vote, and five more within the family. TS, I suggest you search more for the Truth. You won’t find it in Al Gross.

  • And for all you hypocrites spouting Al Gross’s worth and how he came by it, Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan from Ohio has a net worth of 2.9 million, higher than the average for a congress member. Included in his portfolio is Black Rock, which invests in projects that destroy tropical rainforests on massive scales. Interesting, considering he supports opening 100% of the Tongass for mining and logging.

    • Somehow there is a double standard when it comes to wealth for Sullivan and Gross. I wonder why.

  • Pain meds go to people in pain when they need it. People abusing that system and selling their meds is not the docs fault. You might as well hold being a doctor against him. Not a bad doctor, just that he’s a doctor. We live in a democracy where these medications are legal, because the greater majority wants them to be. If society is disappointing off grid options are out there.

  • Sounds like an investigation needs to be done just like they did the Trump turn over all the rocks look under everything make sure that Dr. Gross is as honest as he says he is.

  • Suzanne, I am a huge fan and supporter of you and MRAC, however I think your premise of this article is a bit skewed. Let me explain , I am no fan of Al Gross the candidate , however the conjecture that Al Gross the surgeon was responsible for a drug epidemic is a stretch. I believe that many doctors , perhaps including Gross over prescribed these pills. Was it a conspiracy? Or was it based upon the best knowledge available at the time? I dunno. I’ve heard stories both ways. Gross was no fool with locating his practice in Juneau. With a legion of aging State Workers with Legacy medical benefits it was like shooting ducks in a barrel. The malpractice story isn’t a biggie either. Sooner or later it seems a suit will come to any professional and despite how good a doctor might be , mistakes happen.

    I think Gross the candidate is disingenuous as hell. I think his ideas stink and his financial backers are suspect, especially for Alaska’s future.

    Excepting this missive, I remain your fan and admirer!

    • Suzanne – I am very similar to Mr. Schenker, and I have to say that I agree with his articulate assessment….

      None of us are perfect. Thank you for pouring out immeasurable amounts of time, effort and dedication to bring the rest of AK stories and perspectives that aren’t seen in most of the main stream media. Thank you.

      • However,……medical malpractice suits would reveal the nature of the doctor. If he made a medical error, then he should admit it…..not fight it. No doc wants his reputation smeared. But if he negligently harmed a patient, the public has a right to know what exactly happened. Court documents are public. If he supplied copious amounts of addictive drugs to his patients, the public should know that too. If you can’t trust him as a doctor, you certainly can’t trust him as a US Senator.

  • Petty and reckless journalism here, Suzanne. I read regularly and you’ve done far better. This is a classic logical fallacy that any high schooler will recognize: Juneau had an opioid epidemic; as an orthopedic surgeon Al Gross prescribed opioids; ergo Al Gross bears responsibility for the opioid epidemic. Correlation does NOT equal causation. If you have evidence, actual real evidence, that Al Gross overprescribed opioids or acted in way that harmed his community, please share it. If you’d like to instead propose that surgeons in Alaska make entirely too much money and should be reigned in, fine. I’m okay with that. There’s more than enough evidence to support that claim.

  • Suzanne, you can do better tahn this article. And start with this nugget from this article:

    “Gross’ retirement was in 2013, the same year he was sued for medical malpractice…”

    Why oh why, I ask?

      • We’re counting on you to get to Dr. Gross’s medical practice background. How many lawsuits against him? How many opiod addictions, and deaths, attributed to Dr. Gross for negligence and medical malpractice in prescribing opiods? Oh, I forgot. Dr. Gross was too busy with grizzly bears and yachting to give a damn about his patients. Good work, Suzanne!

        • Yes, Suzanne is a searchlight for our times. We readers and commenters owe her great gratitude…….not to mention the Alaska public.

          • Al Gross has a real fear that something in his background is going to be learned. Suzanne will probably find it and uncover it for us. My impression is that it lies in the distribution of opiods throughout his medical practice. The answers could be found in lawsuits, which are public. Or, it could be found by good private investigation into the lives of former patients who might want to disclose their past drug habits and their history of opiod prescriptions written by Al Gross. Or, it could be found in the obituary columns, where former patients of Al Gross talk beyond their graves. If it’s to be found, Suzanne will find it.

        • Number of lawsuits other than the one we’ve already heard about: Zero.

          Status of Alaska Medical License: Current. (Specialty: Orthopedic Surgery)

          Number of Agreements/Actions/Accusations on file with Alaska Medical Board: Zero.

          American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery Certification: Current Through 2027.

          Board certification required for Alaska medical license: None.

          Time spent gathering the facts above from readily accessible public databases: 5 minutes

  • Good point Suzanne about opioid addiction in Juneau and what role Doctors might have played. I was injured about a decade ago in Juneau, I got medical attention and was given a bottle of pain pills. I used one the first night. Later I noticed that the bottle was nearly empty. We had a house guest staying with us. A young woman. She evidently consumed them or sold the pills for a profit. My mother in law had a similar incident happen to her. A family member stole her pain pills also. Point is, who is responsible? A chicken and the egg kind of thing.

  • Dr. Gross, the Pill Doctor. A little oxy here, a little fentanyl there. Here, a little methadone, there a little smack. Doc Gross could restore order to the Senate real quick, by putting them all to sleep. Some permanently.

    • I wonder if Doc Gross uses his own medicine? His family members?

      • In his photos, Gross usually looks pretty wasted. A lot of prescribing docs get hooked on their own candy. They lie to cover-up their addictions. And we all know that Al Gross is a huge liar.

  • The ad campaign for this guy is out of control. Every other ad on youtube has been for this clown. My household receives 2 or 3 pieces of mail each day from whoever attacking Don and Dan and promoting the “bear doctor” or whatever that retarded song says. There is big money behind him, the independent claim is obviously bs and in my opinion he looks like a individual who doesn’t have my best interest in mind. Something is just off. But what do I know? He killed a bear so according to the campaign we should just trust him.

    • The ad algorithms feed you what they think you will buy. I got to watch the same ad for Sullivan 12 times last night during a 2-hour movie.

  • Fact is that government has no business in health insurance. It is a product, not a “right.” I mean is buying a car a “right” ? No, it’s a product Being a Libertarian, I am for limited government and he is not for limited anything His support for Obamacare, aka the not so affordable health care act, shows that. If that doctor wanted real reform, he would stop the frivolous lawsuit by ambulance chasers.
    It would be nice if he would come clean about why he was sued and who his major financial backers are. Don’t hide it, Dr. Al

  • One of the classic case scenarios presented in medical school (ethics) was the case where a physician would order some expensive tests (CT scans, MRIs, etc.) for a patient and they would suggest that the test be performed on equipment owned by the physician’s clinic. This is a significant conflict of interest, and although not illegal, would demonstrate extremely unethical behavior. There are some exceptions to this such as if the particular piece of equipment was the only available equipment in the community and alternatives would require large expense (travel) to the patient. This is potentially why Dr. Al Gross’s yearly revenue was much higher than the national average and this should be a major investigative point. Regarding his political affiliation, it would have been more honest to run on the democratic ticket…..the Dems are pumping so much money into this guy’s campaign as evidenced by his commercials on TV, Youtube, Fantasy Football, etc., that are on every 5 minutes. They are desperate to flip this Senate seat.

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