Tennessee doctor faces up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to opioid charge

Gavel and flag in courtroom
A Tennessee doctor arrested as part of a five-state undercover investigation pleaded guilty to an opioid charge. (Getty/AlexStar)

A Tennessee doctor faces up to 20 years in prison and up to a $1 million fine after he pleaded guilty to a single count of unlawful distribution of drugs, including opioids.

Darrel R. Rinehart, M.D., 64, of Indianapolis, Indiana, formerly of Columbia, Tennessee, pleaded guilty to unlawful distribution of controlled substances, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee.

RELATED: Doctors in 5 states charged with illegally prescribing opioids, some in exchange for cash, sex

Five patients of the doctor died of fatal drug overdoses in 10 months, according to the Associated Press.

Rinehart admitted that in January 2016 he distributed hydrocodone to a patient who did not have any significant underlying health issues to justify such a prescription, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. He also admitted to distributing Schedule II controlled substances, primarily opioids, to four different patients without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the course of professional practice on 18 other occasions between December 2014 and December 2015, according to the announcement.

Rinehart’s sentencing is scheduled for July 30.

He was one of 53 medical professionals in five states charged in April with illegally prescribing opioids and other narcotics, some in exchange for cash and sex. The charges were brought in a sweeping investigation by the federal Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force, launched last year by President Donald Trump’s administration.

In what was described as the largest ever prescription opioid law enforcement operation, charges were brought against 31 doctors, seven pharmacists, eight nurse practitioners and seven other licensed medical professionals for their alleged participation in the illegal prescribing and distribution of opioids and other drugs.

Since its formation in October 2018, the Appalachian strike force, which operates in 10 districts, has charged more than 70 defendants who are collectively responsible for distributing more than 40 million pills, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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