A Virginia doctor was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years in federal prison for prescribing more than half a million doses of opioids to patients over two years, leading to one woman’s death.
Prosecutors said Dr. Joel Smithers, 36, illegally prescribed controlled substances, including oxymorphone, oxycodone, hydromorphone and fentanyl, to every patient who visited his “pill mill” office in Martinsville from 2015 to 2017.
The majority of his patients traveled hundreds of miles one way to receive the addictive drugs, including from West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky ― three states that have some of the highest opioid-involved overdose deaths in the country.
Many of his patients slept outside while waiting up to 12 hours to see him and urinated in the parking lot. His office would regularly remain open past midnight, prosecutors said.
“At trial, one woman who described herself as an addict, compared Smithers’ practice to pill mills she frequented in Florida where she received medication without any kind of physical exam or medical records,” the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which participated in the investigation, said in a release.
Smithers didn’t accept insurance from his patients and raked in more than $700,000 in cash and credit card payments from the illegal scheme.
“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,” a DEA agent on the Smithers case stated, per the release.
Smithers passed blame onto some of his patients in his testimony, saying he was tricked into prescribing the drugs, according to The New York Times.
“I learned several lessons the hard way about trusting people that I should not have trusted,” he said.
Smithers was convicted in May of 861 federal drug charges, including maintaining a place for the purpose of illegally distributing controlled substances and possession with the intent to distribute controlled substances. A jury also found him responsible for the death of a West Virginia woman whom he had prescribed oxycodone and oxymorphone to.
In addition to his prison sentence, Smithers, who was sentenced in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, was ordered to pay $86,000.