Virginia doctor prescribed half a million opioid and fentanyl pills in two years, sentenced to 40 years in prison
ABINGDON, Va. – Joel Smithers, 36, a Martinsville-based doctor, was sentenced Oct. 2, 2019 to 40 years in federal prison and sentenced to pay a special assessment of $86,000, on 861 federal drug charges in U.S. District Court in Abingdon.
Smithers was found to have prescribed more than half a million opioid pills from his Martinsville practice. He was convicted of having caused the death of a West Virginia woman from the oxycodone and oxymorphone he prescribed, maintaining a place for the purpose of illegally distributing controlled substances, possession with the intent to distribute controlled substances, and 859 counts of illegally prescribing Schedule II controlled substances.
“Dr. Smithers flooded Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio with his opioid prescriptions and hid behind his white doctor’s coat as a large-scale drug dealer,” said Jesse Fong, special agent in charge of the Washington Division Office. “The Drug Enforcement Administration’s Tactical Diversion Squads will relentlessly investigate and arrest these drug dealers disguised as doctors in our communities.”
Evidence presented at trial showed Smithers opened an office in Martinsville, Virginia in August 2015, and prescribed controlled substances to every patient in his practice, resulting in more than 500,000 pills being distributed. The drugs involved included oxymorphone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, and fentanyl. A majority of those receiving prescriptions from Smithers traveled hundreds of miles, one-way, to receive the drugs.
His office lacked basic medical supplies, his receptionist lived out of a back room during the work week, and many patients 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 where she received medication without any kind of physical exam or medical records.
Patients who came to the office would wait up to 12 hours to see Smithers, who regularly kept his office open past midnight. Smithers did not accept insurance and took in more than $700,000 in cash and credit card payments in 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,” a DEA agent on the Smithers case, stated.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Washington Field Division and the Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General. Task force officers with the police departments of Bristol, Martinsville, Buena Vista, Roanoke, and Roanoke County; the Sheriff’s Offices of Henry County and Pittsylvania County; and the Virginia State Police assisted in the investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Cagle Juhan, Randy Ramseyer and Zachary T. Lee prosecuted the case for the United States.