An Ohio resident recently pleaded guilty to taking part in a painkiller distribution ring that consisted of buying pills at locations both in-state and out-of-state and selling them at a Huntington auto repair garage.
Jeffrey King pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute oxydocone and oxymorphone in federal court. He is the third person to be indicted on federal drug charges for this specific drug ring this year. One of the other men charged, Vernon Browning, has pleaded guilty as well.
King claims that he was recruited in spring or summer of 2012 by Browning, the one who allegedly organized the ring. Browning allegedly began funding and organizing trips to buy prescription pills as early as 2008. Browning and his associates then allegedly stored the pills in the auto repair garage. Browning would allegedly rent vehicles for trips to Atlanta and help his associates obtain driver’s licenses so that they could get prescriptions from Georgia doctors.
King’s mission was to go to Georgia to obtain prescription pills that would be sold in Huntington, West Virginia. In addition, King began making trips to a clinic in Charleston, West Virginia to buy pills, which were paid for up front by Browning. Should King be convicted, he faces a sentence of 20 years, along with a potential $1 million fine.
Whether you are a prosecutor or a West Virginia criminal defense attorney, the prescription pill mill epidemic is a concern. While this case demonstrates that a working pill mill does not need a doctor to be a co-conspirator, in many cases, one of the co-conspirators is a doctor. The doctor will write prescriptions for those who pay him or her, without bothering to conduct an examination to determine whether the prescriptions are actually needed. For instance, a physician in Logan County, West Virginia recently pled guilty to operating a pill mill out of his office. Dr. Gonzales-Ramos allegedly traveled from El Paso, Texas to Logan County every three months to illegally provide prescription painkillers. Pill mills operate throughout the United States, including West Virginia, which has one of the nation’s worst drug habits.
Fortunately states are taking action to put a stop to pill mills. For instance, Georgia will soon require pain clinics be licensed by medical clinics and owned by a physician. If pain clinics fail to register every two years, they could face felony indictments. The law is not perfect — West Virginia has a pain clinic ownership law, and such laws do not account for physicians violating the law — but it is certainly a step forward toward controlling the pill mill problem.
That said, those who are charged with operating a pill mill deserve competent legal representation as much as anyone. It is written into the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution that every criminal suspect is entitled to representation, and if he or she cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed. After all, until the case progresses, we really do not know the suspect’s story. Maybe the suspect was really not involved. Maybe the suspect was acting innocently, being more permissive with pill dispensing because he or she thought that the patient’s subjective view of pain was what mattered most. Even if the suspect was involved in a pill mill, he or she may have been misled or the role was not as significant as charged. The only way to know is to let the suspect have his or her day in court.