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Doctor Who Gave Every Patient Opioids Sentenced to 40 Years

He 'hid behind his doctor's coat as a large-scale drug dealer'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 4, 2019 5:23 AM CDT
Dr. Joel Smithers.   (Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority)

(Newser) – A Virginia doctor who never met a patient he didn't prescribe opioids to has been sentenced to 40 years in prison. Prosecutors say Dr. Joel Smithers, 36, prescribed more than 500,000 doses of opioids in less than two years at his practice in Martinsville, population 13,000, before it was raided by federal agents in 2017. He was convicted in May of more than 800 counts of illegally distributing opioids including fentanyl and oxycodone. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Jesse Fong said Wednesday that Smithers "hid behind his white doctor's coat as a large-scale drug dealer," the New York Times reports. Authorities say many of his patients either abused the drugs or sold them for a profit. The drugs he prescribed killed a woman in West Virginia, prosecutors said.

Authorities say patients would travel to Smithers' clinic from Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, and Tennessee, sometimes waiting up to 12 hours for a prescription. Smithers, who often kept the clinic open past midnight, did not accept insurance but took in more than $700,000 in cash and credit card payments. Smithers, a married father of five, argued that he had been duped by his patients and sometimes "trusted people I should not have trusted." US Attorney Thomas Cullen said the sentence "serves as just punishment" for Smithers' crimes, the AP reports. "This physician perpetuated, on a massive scale, the vicious cycle of addiction and despair," Cullen said. (Johnson & Johnson is paying two Ohio counties more than $20 million over its role in the opioids crisis.)

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