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September 15, 2021 07:46pm
By Jill Murphy, Associate Editor
Physicians, physicianâ€™s assistants, and nurse practitioners await sentencing for their role in a Tennessee pill mill.
Eight medical co-workers from the Breakthrough Pain Therapy Center in Maryville, TN, are potentially facing time in prison after pleading guilty to federal drug conspiracy charges for their involvement in a ”pill mill,” reportedUSA Today.
Last week, Dr James Brian Joyner was sentenced to 70 months in federal prison, while another supervisory physician, 2 physician’s assistants (PAs), and 4 nurse practitioners (NPs) are awaiting sentencing, according toUSA Today.
Each of the medical providers worked at the East Tennessee-based clinic part-time between 2009 and 2010, and earned anywhere from $500 per day to $1000 per-day for physicians, according to theKnoxville News Sentinel.
Sandra Kincaid, an opiate addict, opened the clinic with her husband, Randy Kincaid, to help make money and continue to feed her addiction, according to theSentinel.
In addition to running the clinic, Sandra Kincaid paid patients to give her a percentage of the pills they received, theSentinelreported. In 17 months, the clinic made $12.5 million in cash.
The clinic was raided in December 2010 by federal authorities, and the Kincaids and 2 family members were indicted as drug dealers, but nothing was done to shut down the pill mill. In 2014, the US Attorney’s office in Knoxville decided to indict the medical staff at Breakthrough for dealing drugs, “just like the hustlers on the street peddling crack cocaine,” reported theSentinel.
“It was good money, an easy job,” PA Don Robert Lewis Jr testified last week in the US District Court, as reported by theSentinel. “I had always worked an extra job. I don’t think about it much either way. I was just pretty much going through the motions. I was kind of willful blindness, I guess.”
This willful blindness of their role in the opiate epidemic is what landed these 8 medical workers in trouble with authorities.
Although the defendants fought the indictment by arguing that it was a federal encroachment on the physician-patient relationship, an abuse of the government’s power, and in no way akin to garden-variety drug dealing, they ultimately lost the fight.
Warning signs that the facility was not an actual clinic included: cash only payments, gun-toting workers, entire families and patients with identical pain complaints, no medical referrals, no prior testing, no medical equipment, no appointments, and a boss with no medical experience, according toUSA Today.
However, the clinics were perfectly legal and completely unregulated, making it easy for the medical workers to convince themselves that they were not doing anything wrong,USA Todayreported.
“At the time, I never thought anything I was doing was illegal,” PA Walter David Blankenship testified last week in the hearing before US District Judge Pamela Reeves, reportedUSAToday.
IRS Criminal Investigation Division investigator, Meredith Louden, testified last week that the opiate epidemic shows no signs of slowing down, and has actually gotten worse,USATodayreported.