May 7, 2018: Abingdon Nurse Practitioner Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Illegally Prescribe Buprenorphine, Clonazepam, and Gabapentin at Substance Abuse Treatment Program
NP Matthew Sykes Also Pleaded Guilty to Illegally Distributing Oxycodone
Abingdon, VIRGINIA – United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen announced today that an Abingdon, Virginia, nurse practitioner pleaded guilty to charges related to the illegal distribution of opiates and other prescription drugs.
Matthew Justin Sykes, 43, pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia to one count of conspiring to (a) misbrand a drug in interstate commerce by causing prescription drugs to be dispensed without a valid prescription and (b) illegally distribute Schedule III and IV controlled substances. In addition, he pleaded guilty to eight counts of distributing oxycodone, a Schedule II opiate, one count of distributing alprazolam, a Schedule IV benzodiazepine, and one count of using the United States Postal Service in committing, causing or facilitating a felony drug trafficking offense.
Sykes was employed by Watauga Recovery Center from March 2012 until April 2017, a practice that holds itself out as a substance abuse treatment program. Watauga Recovery Center has locations in Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. Sykes worked primarily at Watauga Recovery Center’s Duffield, Virginia, office. Sykes was also employed by E & C Counseling, another practice holding itself out as a substance abuse treatment center, located in Abingdon, Virginia. Sykes had a valid DEA registration number during this time which was surrendered in May 2017.
Sykes pleaded guilty to conspiring with other health care providers and employees at Watauga Recovery Centers, a cash payment practice, to regularly prescribe a combination of buprenorphine, clonazepam, and gabapentin, without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice. This included issuing prescriptions to patients knowing there was no legitimate reason to do so, and prescribing three dosage units of buprenorphine per day to patients, knowing that at least one of the three doses would be diverted and sold. In addition, Sykes and his co-conspirators would cause prescriptions to be issued in the name of a prescriber who had not examined the patient.
In addition, on multiple occasions from January 2014 until April 2017, Sykes wrote prescriptions for Schedule II controlled substances in various individuals’ names. These prescriptions were not recorded in regular patient files of Watauga Recovery Center or E & C Counseling. The prescriptions were filled at various pharmacies located in the Western District of Virginia. Some of these prescriptions were filled by Sykes himself without the individual’s knowledge or consent, while others were filled by the individuals, who then gave Sykes part of the controlled substances dispensed by the pharmacies. Sykes has admitted that he wrote the prescriptions and that they were issued without a legitimate medical purpose and beyond the bounds of professional practice.
On October 30, 2017, Sykes received a package at his home in Abingdon, Virginia, delivered by the United States Postal Service, which contained alprazolam, a schedule IV controlled substance. Sykes has stated that he ordered this alprazolam from an anonymous internet source on the “dark web.” He has stated that he had been ordering and receiving controlled substances from several different anonymous sources on the dark web since 2013, including oxycodone, hydrocodone, Adderall, and alprazolam, and that he has given and sold controlled substances ordered on the dark web to other individuals.
This case is part of an investigation by the Food and Drug Administration-Office of Criminal Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Virginia State Police, and the Virginia Office of the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.
Special Assistant United States Attorney/Virginia Assistant Attorney General Janine Myatt and Assistant United States Attorney Randy Ramseyer are prosecuting the case with assistance from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee.