Virginia based doctor and father-of-five, was convicted of more than 800 counts of illegally distributing drugs in May
Dr. Joel Smithers was sentenced Wednesday to serve 40 years behind bars in U.S. District Court in Abingdon
Smithers from Greensboro, North Carolina had his practice in Martinsville, southern Virginia
Investigators said, the 36-year-old doctor ‘hid behind his white doctor’s coat as a large-scale drug dealer’, while based in Martinsville, Virginia from 2015 to 2017
Smithers was convicted for prescribing more than 500,000 doses of opioids to patients from Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio and Tennessee
Smithers who testified he was a caring doctor, deceived by some of his patients, made $700,000 in profits from his pill sales, authorities said
Investigators said, the 36-year-old doctor ‘hid behind his white doctor’s coat as a large-scale drug dealer’, while based in Martinsville, Virginia from 2015 to 2017 – He will spend 40 years in prison for ‘illegally prescribing opioids’
Joel Smithers a medical doctor based in Martinsville was sentenced to 40 years in prison for illegally prescribing opioids on Wednesday.
The 36-year-old doctor who prosecutors said ran a medical practice in Virginia like an interstate drug distribution ring was sentenced to 40 years in prison for illegally prescribing opioids.
Dr. Smithers was convicted in May of more than 800 counts of illegally distributing opioids, including oxycodone and oxymorphone that caused the death of a West Virginia woman.
Authorities say Smithers prescribed more than 500,000 doses of opioids to patients from Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio and Tennessee while based in Martinsville, Virginia, from 2015 to 2017, making a profit of $700,000.
Many drove hundreds of miles, spending up to 16 hours on the road, to get prescriptions for oxycodone and other powerful painkillers.
Judge James Jones sentenced Smithers to 40 year in U.S. District Court in Abingdons including 20 years for prescribing opioids that caused the death of West Virginia woman. He faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years and a maximum of life.
Jesse Fong, special agent in charge of the Washington division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said he ‘hid behind his white doctor’s coat as a large-scale drug dealer’.
‘This physician perpetuated, on a massive scale, the vicious cycle of addiction and despair,’ U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen said in a statement. Adding that he hoped the severe sentence ‘serves as just punishment’ for Smithers´ actions.
Smithers, 36, a married father of five from Greensboro, North Carolina, testified that he was a caring doctor who was deceived by some of his patients.
However, by the time the DEA swooped into his small medical office in Martinsville, southern Virginia, in 2017, Smithers had patients from five states waiting to see him.
Some patients remained fiercely loyal to him, testifying that they needed the powerful opioids he prescribed for them to cope with chronic pain.
The judge recommended that Smithers serve his sentence in a prison close to his family and that he receive mental health treatment.
The opioid crisis has been decades in the making and has been fueled by a mix of prescription and street drugs. In the decade from 2000 to 2010, annual deaths linked to prescription opioids increased nearly fourfold.
By the 2010s, with more crackdowns on pill mills and more restrictive guidelines on prescriptions, the number of prescriptions declined.
Then people with addictions turned to even deadlier opioids. But the number of deaths tied to prescription opioids didn’t begin to decline until last year, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Martinsville, where Smithers set up shop, has been particularly hard hit.
Eddie Cassady, the Martinsville police chief, said: ‘I just hope that this sentence will set an example of what happens to doctors who abuse their authority in prescribing medications for profits. Their actions have contributed to the opioid crisis faced by our country.’
Smithers wrote in a court filing that he plans to appeal his convictions. His attorney did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the sentence.
Christopher Dziedzic, a supervisory special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration who oversaw the investigation into Smithers, said: ‘He’s done great damage and contributed to the overall problem in the heartland of the opioid crisis.’
In the past two decades, opioids have killed about 400,000 Americans, ripped families apart and left communities – many in Appalachia – grappling with ballooning costs of social services like law enforcement, foster care and drug rehab.
Records show that the opioid crisis has been fueled by a mix of prescription and street drugs. Within a decade – 2000 to 2010, annual death tolls linked to prescription opioids increased nearly fourfold
Court filings describing his practice said the office lacked basic medical supplies, with a receptionist who lived out of a back room during the work week, and patients who slept outside and urinated in the parking lot.
At trial, one woman who described herself as an addict compared Smithers’ practice to pill mills she frequented in Florida.
‘I went and got medication without – I mean, without any kind of physical exam or bringing medical records, anything like that,’ the woman testified.
A receptionist testified that patients would wait up to 12 hours to see Smithers, who sometimes kept his office open past midnight. Smithers did not accept insurance and took in close to $700,000 in cash and credit card payments over two years.
‘People only went there for one reason, and that was just to get pain medication that they (could) abuse themselves or sell it for profit,’ Dziedzic said.
He acknowledged during testimony that he sometimes wrote and mailed prescriptions for patients he had not examined but insisted that he had spoken to them over the phone.
Once, he met a woman in the parking lot of a Starbucks, she handed him $300 and he gave her a prescription for fentanyl, an opioid pain reliever that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
When area pharmacists started refusing to fill prescriptions written by Smithers, he directed patients to far-flung pharmacies, including two in West Virginia. Prosecutors say Smithers also used some patients to distribute drugs to other patients. Four of his proxies have been indicted in Kentucky on conspiracy charges.