500,000

Published: October 4, 2019

By Jim Lichtman
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That’s how many doses of oxycodone, hydromorphone, fentanyl and other opioids Virginia Dr. Joel Smithers illegally dispensed to patients over a two year period.

In a press release from the Department of Justice in the Western State of Virginia (May 9), “…Smithers, a Martinsville-based doctor, was found guilty today of 861 federal drug charges at the conclusion of a nine-day jury trial in U.S. District Court in Abingdon, United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen announced.

“The jury convicted Smithers, 36, after seven hours of deliberation, on one count of maintaining a place for the purpose of illegally distributing controlled substances, one count of possession with the intent to distribute controlled substances, and 859 counts of illegally prescribing Schedule II controlled substances. The jury also found that the oxycodone and oxymorphone Smithers prescribed to a woman from West Virginia caused her death.

“ ‘This defendant not only violated his Hippocratic Oath to his patients, but he perpetuated, on a massive scale, the vicious cycle of addiction, despair, and destruction,’ U.S. Attorney Cullen stated today. ‘We have no higher priority than investigating drug-dealing physicians and other corrupt health-care practitioners and putting them in federal prison.’ ”

Dr. Smithers, the statement points out “opened an office in Martinsville in August 2015, and prescribed controlled substances to every patient in his practice, resulting in over 500,000 Schedule II controlled substances being distributed. …  A majority of those receiving prescriptions from Smithers traveled hundreds of miles, one-way, to receive the drugs. Smithers did not accept insurance and took in over $700,000 in cash and credit card payments prior to a search warrant being executed at his office on March 7, 2017.”

On October 2, Smithers was sentenced to 40 years in prison and fined $86,000 for his blatant neglect of patients’ care and deliberately lining his own pockets at the expense of the weak and vulnerable who trusted him.

“Dr. Smithers,” The New York Times reported (Oct. 2), “ ‘hid behind his white doctor’s coat as a large-scale drug dealer,’ Jesse Fong, special agent in charge of the Washington division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said in a statement on Wednesday. …

“Martinsville, a city of about 13,000 near the North Carolina border, has one of the highest rates of opioid pills prescribed per person in the country. Dr. Smithers was visited by patients from West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia, law enforcement officials said. …

“The government estimates that 2.5 million Americans are addicted to opioids, but some experts believe that the number is between five million and 10 million. More than 300,000 Americans have died of opioid overdoses since 2000, a government watchdog office reported this week.”

News of the conviction follows two recent stories: Johnson & Johnson reached a $20.4 million settlement in an opioid case in two counties in Ohio (Oct. 1); and OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy (Sept. 5).

U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen said of Smithers, “This physician perpetuated, on a massive scale, the vicious cycle of addiction and despair.”

My only question is: Why isn’t this guy getting life without the possibility of parole?

Monday: Something uplifting.

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