November 29, 2018: Two Practitioners Sentenced for Drug Crimes in Connection with HOPE Clinic
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – United States Attorney Mike Stuart announced that two practitioners were sentenced today by United States District Court Judge Irene Berger for drug crimes in connection with the HOPE Clinic. Stuart praised the investigation conducted by the United States Food and Drug Administration – Office of Criminal Investigations, the United States Department of Health and Human Services - Office of Inspector General, Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations, the West Virginia State Police, the Kentucky State Police, the Kentucky Board of Pharmacy, Appalachia HIDTA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“Healthcare professionals that contribute to the drug epidemic, must be held accountable,” said United States Attorney Mike Stuart. “Again, a drug dealer is a drug dealer, whether they are a street dealer, cartel leader or they wear a lab coat.”
Karl O’Dell, 62, a pharmacist and former owner of Boyd County Pharmacy in Ashland, Kentucky, was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment for a conspiracy to misbrand oxycodone and hydrocodone. O’Dell was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and serve one year of supervised release following his term of imprisonment during which he is prohibited from working as a pharmacist. O’Dell also agreed to a civil settlement with the United States for the total gross proceeds he earned as a result of the conspiracy for $42,054.45.
O’Dell admitted that he conspired to misbrand oxycodone and hydrocodone and introduce them into interstate commerce when he manufactured compounded oxycodone and hydrocodone not for medically legitimate purposes and outside the course of professional practice for customers of HOPE Clinic in anticipation of prescriptions written by HOPE Clinic practitioners. O’Dell admitted that in furtherance of the conspiracy, on two separate occasions, once in July 2014 and once in August 2014, he received prescriptions for two different customers of HOPE Clinic written by two different practitioners at HOPE Clinic each for 120 oxycodone 32 mg compounded capsules and that he dispensed the capsules to the customers knowing that there was no medically legitimate need for the compounded prescriptions.
In imposing the O’Dell’s sentence, Judge Berger stated that O’Dell’s “creative conspiracy” with the HOPE Clinic and his conduct made it possible for HOPE Clinic to continue to operate “like a pill mill” while other pharmacies were refusing to fill HOPE Clinic prescriptions and that O’Dell was an “integral link” in the conspiracy. The Court further noted that during O’Dell’s twenty-month participation in the conspiracy, at no point did his conscience or his oath stop him from participating but instead, he compounded to evade oversight and in doing so his conduct was more like a drug-trafficker.
Assistant United States Attorney Monica D. Coleman handled the prosecution of O’Dell.
Teresa Emerson, 59, of Bristol, Virginia, was sentenced to three years of probation for aiding and abetting obtaining a controlled substance by fraud. Emerson was also order to complete 100 hours of community service. Emmerson further agreed to surrender her DEA registration as part of her plea agreement with the United States.
Emerson worked as a licensed family nurse practitioner at the HOPE Clinic in Wytheville, Virginia, where she was authorized to write prescriptions for controlled substances for legitimate medical purposes in the usual course of professional practice. Emerson admitted that on February 4, 2015, while working at the clinic, she signed a prescription for 145 oxycodone compound 32 mg to patient J.W. that was not for a legitimate medical purpose in the usual course of professional medical practice. Emerson admitted that she simply signed the prescription for what J.W. had previously been prescribed despite the fact that J.W. had at least three abnormal drug screens including testing positive for drugs she had not been prescribed and testing negative for drugs that she was prescribed. Emerson further admitted that J.W.’s chart reflected that she had admitted to getting drugs off the street and during one of her visits, a staff member noted “track marks on her right arm.” During the plea hearing, Emerson admitted that despite these “red flags” she did not discuss the possibility of addiction with J.W. and that J.W.’s medical records did not support the initial prescription for pain medicine or any of the subsequent prescriptions for pain medicine. After receiving the prescription provided to her by Emerson on February 4, 2015, Emerson admitted that J.W. filled the prescription for the oxycodone at a pharmacy in Gilbert, Mingo County, West Virginia. J.W. has since admitted to being an addict and seeking the pills from HOPE Clinic for the purpose of feeding her addiction.
In imposing the sentence, the Court noted that as a nurse practitioner, Emerson prescribed oxycodone and other controlled substances under a supervising physician. The Court further noted that while there were no legal victims to the crime, there were victims in that HOPE Clinic and Ms. Emerson, through working there, put opioids on the street, fed people’s addictions, and that patients coming to HOPE Clinic were not receiving legitimate medical care.
Assistant United States Attorneys Monica D. Coleman and Steven I. Loew handled the prosecution of Emerson.