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Doctor who prescribed more than 500,000 opioid doses has conviction tossed

2024.02.02 18:23


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Tablets of Hydrocodone at a pharmacy in Portsmouth, Ohio, June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – A Virginia physician who prescribed more than 500,000 opioid doses in much less than two years had his conviction and 40-year jail sentence thrown out by a federal appeals courtroom on Friday, as a result of the jury directions misstated the regulation.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia additionally ordered a brand new trial for Joel Smithers, 41, who has been serving his sentence in an Atlanta jail.

Overprescription of painkillers is among the major causes of the nation’s opioid disaster. Nearly 645,000 folks died within the United States from overdoses involving opioids from 1999 to 2021, together with 80,411 in 2021 alone, in keeping with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Prosecutors stated Smithers prescribed managed substances together with fentanyl, hydromorphone, oxycodone and oxymorphone to each affected person he noticed on the Martinsville, Virginia workplace he opened in August 2015.

A majority of sufferers traveled tons of of miles every technique to see Smithers, who didn’t settle for insurance coverage and picked up more than $700,000 in money and bank card funds earlier than regulation enforcement raided his workplace in March 2017, prosecutors stated.

Jurors convicted Smithers on 861 counts in May 2019, after being instructed that the federal government wanted to show he acted “without a legitimate medical purpose or beyond the bounds of medical practice.”

The appeals courtroom discovered this instruction faulty in mild of a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court determination that stated the crime of prescribing managed substances required a defendant to “knowingly or intentionally” act in an unauthorized method.

Writing for a three-judge panel, Circuit Judge Roger Gregory stated Smithers’ jury directions had been faulty as a result of jurors may have convicted him solely for appearing exterior the bounds of medical follow, no matter his data or intent.

He additionally stated such an error was not innocent, even in circumstances with “copious evidence of a defendant’s guilt.”

The workplace of U.S. Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh within the Western District of Virginia didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.

“A doctor’s guilt depends purely on his subjective beliefs,” stated Beau Brindley, a lawyer for Smithers. “Any attempt by the government to pretend otherwise was resoundingly rejected.”

The case is U.S. v. Smithers, 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 19-4761.

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