Opioids have killed people, torn apart families, and have left financial strains on law enforcement and drug rehabs. It is a major crime to be responsible for those statistics for illegally distributing opioids that have led to tragedies. One such doctor is facing a 40-year sentence for illegally prescribing opioids over the past two years.

Martinsville, Virginia

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with addiction turn to deadlier opioids after restrictions on written prescriptions for opioids. Dr. Joel Smithers’ office was set up in Martinsville, Virginia. This city used to be considered the “Sweatshirt Capital of the World” for its furniture and textile manufacturing until factories started to close down in the 1990s. From 2006-2012, Martinsville had the nation’s third-highest number of opioid pills received, according to the Associated Press. Doctors being less comfortable writing out prescriptions left a window of opportunity for doctors like Smithers. 

Dr. Joel Smither’s Practice

In 2017, Dr. Smithers prescribed half a million doses of highly addictive opioids in two years. Patients from five states would drive 16 hours to get prescriptions for oxycodone and other powerful painkillers. Instead of running a real medical practice, Dr. Smithers led an interstate drug distribution that contributed to the opioid epidemic in West Virginia. His office lacked basic medical supplies, had a receptionist that worked in the backroom, and patients would sleep outside. One female testified that she found it strange that she was given opioids without a physical exam or medical records. This doctor did not accept insurance and accepted $700,000 in cash and credit card payments in two years.

The Trial

Dr. Smithers said during the trial that after moving to Virginia, he was flooded with patients coming up to him that nearby pain clinics were shut down. He said he would treat these patients with the intent of weaning them off high doses of addictive drugs. Dr. Smithers said he met a woman at a Starbucks parking lot who gave him $300 for a fentanyl prescription. Family members said that Dr. Smithers suffered from depression and anxiety and that all of his decisions were influenced by personal stress and emotional strain. Dr. Smithers made a profit out of the addictions of others. What we can learn from this case is how doctors can easily take advantage of those struggling with addiction and that they need to be directed to help instead. 

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