CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Five doctors have pleaded guilty in connection with prescribing practices at the HOPE Clinic, an alleged pain management clinic that operated in Beckley, Beaver, and Charleston, West Virginia, and Wytheville, Virginia.
Four of the doctors each pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting obtaining a controlled substance by fraud: William Earley, DO, 66, of North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Brian Gullett, DO, 45, of Clarksville, Pennsylvania; Roswell Tempest Lowry, MD, 88, of Efland, North Carolina; and Vernon Stanley, MD, 79, of Fayetteville, West Virginia.
Mark Clarkson, DO, 64, of Princeton, West Virginia, pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor counts of aiding and abetting the bad image of a drug involved in interstate commerce.
According to court documents and court statements, from November 2010 to June 11, 2015, practitioners associated with the Hitech Opioid Pharmacovigilance Expertise (HOPE) Clinic prescribed thousands of oxycodone and morphine pills to individual clients. . In some cases, these prescriptions provided an average of four to seven pills per day. Several HOPE Clinic sites averaged 65 or more clients per day during a 10-hour workday with only one practitioner working.
Gullett, Early and Stanley each signed several oxycodone prescriptions for a client at the HOPE Clinic in Charleston for 30-milligram and 15-milligram pills. The prescriptions were issued between March 13, 2013 and November 18, 2013, for a total of 390 pills. Gullett, Early and Stanley conceded that the client’s medical records did not support these prescriptions and that the prescriptions were not for legitimate medical purposes in the ordinary course of professional medical practice.
Lowry signed prescriptions for a client at the HOPE Clinic in Charleston for 180 tablets of oxycodone in doses of 20 milligrams and 15 milligrams on August 12, 2014. Lowry admitted that he intentionally did not read the client’s chart to determine if these prescriptions were for legitimate medical purposes. Lowry instead issued the same prescriptions the previous doctors had for the client.
Gullett, Earley, Lowry and Stanley each admitted that these clients had multiple failed or abnormal drug tests, said they were addicted to painkillers, bought pills on the street and sold pills from their HOPE Clinic prescriptions to d ‘others. Gullett, Earley, Lowry and Stanley further admitted that they did not discuss the possibility of addiction or the need for drug treatment with these clients.
Clarkson admitted to helping HOPE Clinic dispense prescriptions after major retailers stopped filling them and smaller pharmacies couldn’t keep up with supply and demand from Hope Clinic customers. Some local pharmacies were enlisted by Patients, Physicians and Pharmacists Fighting Diversion (PPPFD), which managed the day-to-day operations of HOPE Clinic, to compound oxycodone and other Schedule II controlled substances for HOPE Clinic clients. . Due to restrictions on the composition of a commercially available drug, doctors at the HOPE Clinic were tasked with writing prescriptions for an oxycodone compound in milligram doses that were not commercially available.
Clarkson wrote compound oxycodone prescriptions for five different clients at the HOPE Clinic at the Virginia site between October 2014 and December 2014. All five prescriptions were filled at Adkins Pharmacy in Gilbert, West Virginia, for a total of 635 tablets in doses of 32 milligrams or 16 milligrams. Clarkson admitted that none of the five customers had a legitimate medical need for prescriptions at 32-milligram or 16-milligram doses, as there was no therapeutic difference between those doses and commercially available doses.
Adkins Pharmacy has agreed to pay $88,085.73 in civil monetary penalties in 2020. The settlement agreement resolved allegations that Adkins Pharmacy violated controlled substances law by filling illegitimate prescriptions for opioid compounds issued by physicians affiliated with the HOPE clinic. Adkins Pharmacy has also entered into a three-year compliance agreement with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) which imposes increased reporting and monitoring requirements and penalties for non-compliance.
Gullett, Earley, Lowry, Stanley and Clarkson are scheduled to be sentenced on December 22, 2022. Gullett, Earley, Lowry and Stanley each face a maximum sentence of four years in prison, one year of probation and a $250,000 fine. Gullett, Earley, Lowry and Stanley also agreed to surrender their Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) registration certificates and not object to the revocation of their registration to distribute controlled substances. Lowry and Stanley further agreed not to seek re-registration, while Gullett and Early agreed not to seek re-registration to distribute Schedule II controlled substances. Clarkson faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, one year of supervised release and a fine of $500,000.
Gullett, Earley, Lowry, Stanley and Clarkson were originally charged in 2018 along with owners, managers and other doctors associated with HOPE Clinic and PPPFD. The other defendants are awaiting trial. An indictment is only an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a court.
“These pleas show our office’s continued efforts to protect lives and prevent future overdoses in every way possible,” said U.S. Attorney Will Thompson. “A lot of effort has gone into this case.”
Thompson praised the investigative work of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI), Food and Drug Administration-Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA -OCI), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), West Virginia State Police, Metropolitan Drug Enforcement Network Team (MDENT), Beckley Police Department , the Kentucky State Police, the Harrison County, Kentucky Sheriff’s Department, and the Appalachian High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (AHIDTA) Task Force.
United States District Judge Frank W. Volk presided over the hearings. Assistant United States Attorneys Monica Coleman, Steve Loew and Owen Reynolds are prosecuting the case.
This case is part of an ongoing effort by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia to combat the illicit sale and abuse of prescription drugs and heroin. The United States Attorney’s Office, joined by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, has pledged to aggressively pursue and stop the pill trade, eliminate drug markets outdoors and to curb the spread of opiate painkillers and heroin in communities in the Southern District.
A copy of this press release can be found on the website of the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia. Court documents and related information can be found on PACER by searching for Case Nos. 5:18-cr-26, 2:22-cr-167, 2:22-cr-168, 2:22-cr-169, 2:22-cr-170 and 2:22-cr-176.