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Four physicians convicted of selling drugs out of Tennessee clinics

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Article

Four physicians convicted of selling drugs out of Tennessee clinics

justice gavel stethoscope physician: © Jade - stock.adobe.com

© Jade - stock.adobe.com

Four physicians could face prison for peddling drugs out of two clinics in Tennessee.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a federal jury convicted four doctors of conspiracy to illicitly prescribe controlled substances and related charges of fraud and money laundering.

The four worked together in two clinics offering opioid use disorder treatment in east Tennessee. Investigators alleged they unlawfully prescribed Suboxone (buprenorphine) and benzodiazepine-class drugs, including clonazepam.

Buprenorphine is a legal medication that physicians may prescribe to treat opioid use disorder, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. A report in the Lexington Herald-Leader noted people abuse it and it can be diverted to illegal sales.

“These physicians focused on their own greed and self-interests, not the needs of their patients,” Carlton S. Shier, IV, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, said in a statement. “Their illegal scheme had a damaging impact on their patients, fraudulently preyed on health benefit programs, and undermined the public’s faith in legitimate medical practices in this field.

“We, and our law enforcement partners, remain committed to holding those who take advantage of the medical licenses entrusted to them, to profit through unlawful prescriptions, accountable,” Shier said. “The opioid epidemic created an acute need for responsible substance abuse treatment. Drug trafficking, operating under the guise of addiction treatment, is another despicable consequence of this problem.”

The clinics were known as EHC Medical in Harriman and Jacksboro, Tennessee, but with patients coming from eastern Kentucky, according to DOJ.

Evann Herrell, Mark Grenkoski, Keri McFarlane, and Stephen Cirelli were the physicians convicted at trial. Herrell, Grenkoski, and McFarlane also submitted fraudulent claims to Medicare, Medicaid, and other health benefit programs, totaling million of dollars for prescription drugs and urine drug testing. They are scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 4, according to DOJ.

Dr. Robert Taylor, who opened EHC Medical in 2013 and operated it through late 2018, pleaded guilty to a drug trafficking conspiracy charge and this year was sentenced to 30 months in prison, according to DOJ. Taylor forfeited $13.8 million and paid a fine of $200,000.

Lori Barnett, a registered nurse who helped Taylor supervise daily operations, and three other physicians – Matthew Rasberry, Helen Bidwaid, and Eva Misra – all pleaded guilty to related drug or money laundering charges. They are awaiting sentencing, according to DOJ.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Kentucky office of the U.S. Attorney General. The trial was in federal court in Frankfort, Kentucky.

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