After prescribing opioids to a West Virginia woman who subsequently died, a Virginia doctor has been sentenced to 40 years in prison. A district court ruled that Joel Smithers was guilty of over 800 federal drug charges, including illegally distributing controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose.
The prosecution claimed that essentially, Smithers’ practice existed primarily to prescribe opioids to his clients. In total, Smithers prescribed over 500,000 doses of oxycodone, hydromorphone, and fentanyl, among other substances. Authorities from the U.S. Justice Department said that his Martinsville office prescribed controlled substances to “every patient in his practice, resulting in over 500,000 Schedule II controlled substances being distributed.”
That’s a lot of people getting opioids in a relatively short amount of time. Smithers opened the office in 2015, and it was raided by the feds only two years later.
Over prescription and abuse of opioids is a grave problem in the U.S. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has announced that of the 700,000 residents who died of drug overdoses between 1999 and 2017, 68 percent of the fatalities included the use of a prescription drug or illegal opioid.
Smithers’ case was a harbinger of a shift that has occurred