Virginia doctor sentenced to 40 years in prison after conviction on more than 800 opioid counts

Is it possible to commit a human rights violation simply by not asking the right questions?
A Virginia doctor will go to jail for 40 years for illegally prescribing opioids. (Getty Images/AndreyPopov)

A Virginia physician was sentenced to 40 years in prison for illegally prescribing opioids, including one prescription that caused a woman’s death.

Joel Smithers, D.O., of Greensboro, North Carolina, was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Abingdon, Virginia, after he was found guilty in May of more than 800 counts of illegally prescribing drugs, according to The Associated Press.

Smithers, who prosecutors said ran his medical practice like an interstate drug distribution ring, had faced a minimum sentence of 20 years and a maximum of life in prison. Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Day Rottenborn said Judge James Jones sentenced Smithers to 40 years, according to the news agency.

Smithers was convicted in May after a nine-day jury trial of 861 counts of illegally distributing opioids, including prescribing oxycodone and oxymorphone that caused the death of a West Virginia woman.

Evidence presented at his trial showed Smithers, 36, opened an office in Martinsville in August 2015 and prescribed controlled substances to every patient in his practice, distributing over 500,000 doses to patients from Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio and Tennessee. The drugs included oxymorphone, oxycodone, hydromorphone and fentanyl.

Prosecutors said a majority of those receiving prescriptions from Smithers traveled hundreds of miles, one way, to receive the drugs. Smithers did not accept insurance and took in over $700,000 in cash and credit card payments prior to a search warrant being executed at his office on March 7, 2017.

Smithers, a married father of five, testified that he was a caring doctor who was deceived by some of his patients.

Some patients remained fiercely loyal to him, testifying that they needed the powerful opioids he prescribed for them to cope with chronic pain.

Smithers wrote in a court filing that he plans to appeal his convictions, the AP reported.