Richland Physician Sentenced for Conspiring to Distribute Medically Unnecessary Fentanyl Patches, Opioid Pills and Other Controlled Substances
Sentenced to Four Years in Prison
SPOKANE, Wash. – Senior U.S. District Judge Edward F. Shea has sentenced Dr. Janet Sue Arnold, age 63, of Benton City, Washington, to 48 months in federal prison for conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute opioid pain medications and other controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice. Senior Judge Shea also imposed a period of 3-years’ federal supervised release.
In announcing the sentence, Senior Judge Shea emphasized the risks created by Defendant’s offense, stating, that this “particular crime created the risk of so many others.”
According to court documents, Arnold abused her position of trust as a medical doctor by participating in a prescription drug conspiracy with Danielle Corine Mata, David Barnes Nay, Lisa Marie Cooper and Jennifer Cheri Prichard. As part of their conspiracy, Dr. Arnold and her conspirators pushed thousands of pills on the street to be abused by addicts, and potentially caused others to become addicted to controlled substances. Mata and Prichard, who were both addicts, started out as patients but eventually started working at Dr. Arnold’s Richland, Washington clinic – Desert Wind Family Practice. In approximately March 2016, Mata became the practice’s office manager and one of Arnold’s most trusted associates. During the conspiracy, Nay and Cooper also provided Mata with the names of fictitious patients for her to use on several of the blank, pre-signed prescriptions to obtain opioids.
The conspiracy operated primarily out of Dr. Arnold’s clinic in Richland, Washington. On regular basis, the conspirators distributed highly addictive and dangerous controlled substances, including fentanyl, oxycodone, methadone, hydromorphone, methylphenidate, an amphetamine mixture, as well as carisoprodol and alprazolam. Dr. Arnold had a pattern and practice of providing office staff and patients with hundreds of blank, pre-signed prescriptions that, after logging into the clinic computer, allowed the conspirators to complete and print prescriptions for opioids and other controlled substances. Text messages recovered by investigators from Arnold’s and Mata’s phones demonstrated that Dr. Arnold had texted Mata asking if she needed more “signed paper.” A conspirator acknowledged how important Dr. Arnold’s signature was to the illegal prescription drug distribution conspiracy when she commented to another conspirator, “It’s just a scribble, but it’s important.” Dr. Arnold also prescribed oxycodone pills to a DEA confidential informant without a legitimate medical reason and outside the usual course of medical practice. The confidential informant, posing as a patient, sought treatment from Dr. Arnold for a headache. The confidential informant’s interactions with Arnold were covertly audio- and video-recorded.
“Dr. Arnold contributed to the current opioid epidemic with her illegal and irresponsible prescribing habits,” said Jacob D. Galvan, Acting Special Agent in Charge, DEA Seattle Field Division. “She broke the trust of the community and violated her oath to the public by using her prescription pad and signature to drive a conspiracy to distribute fentanyl patches, opioids and other controlled substances. Today’s sentence sends a clear message that those who participate in the illegal distribution/diversion of narcotics, will be held accountable. We will continue to work with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to keep our communities safe and healthy.”
Vanessa R. Waldref, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, emphasized the seriousness of Dr. Arnold’s breach of trust to the community: “The severity of the conduct cannot be overstated. Dr. Arnold had the prescription pad, the pen, and all the power to prescribe highly addictive Schedule II and Schedule IV controlled substances. She abused that power by pre-signing numerous blank prescriptions and giving them to her office manager. Dr. Arnold contributed to an epidemic of opioid abuse and addiction in Washington. The human cost of this epidemic is staggering and stoked by the criminally poor decisions of doctors like Janet Arnold. She was aware of the red flags of opioid drug diversion, ignored them in her practice, and continued to prescribe drugs in direct violation of her duty as a licensed doctor in Washington. With the stroke of a pen, Dr. Arnold fueled the addiction of people to opioids. I commend the excellent investigative work conducted by DEA’s Tactical Diversion Squad and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. We all depend on doctors and medical professionals to deliver quality and medically-appropriate care, and we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to hold health care practitioners accountable. By doing so, we help make communities in Eastern Washington safer and stronger.”
“Health care professionals have a duty to prescribe controlled substances responsibly. Dr. Arnold’s inappropriate prescribing habits violated federal law and presented a clear danger to patients’ health and safety,” stated Special Agent in Charge Steven J. Ryan of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “Along with our law enforcement partners, HHS-OIG will continue to hold accountable medical professionals who recklessly prescribe opioids at the expense of their community’s well-being.”
Arnold is the third of five defendants to be sentenced in this case. David Barnes Nay, age 43, of Kennewick, Washington, and Lisa Marie Cooper, age 55, of Prosser, Washington, were sentenced to 78-month and 24-month terms of imprisonment, respectively. Danielle Corine Mata, age 44, of Richland, Washington, and Jennifer Cheri Prichard, age 46, of Prosser, Washington, are scheduled to be sentenced in May 2022.
The case was investigated by DEA’s Seattle Field Office, Tactical Diversion Squad (“TDS”), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Seattle Field Office. This case was prosecuted by George J.C. Jacobs, III and Dominique J. Park, Assistant United States Attorneys for the Eastern District of Washington.