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5 doctors plead guilty in West Virginia in pain pill scheme

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Five doctors pleaded guilty in a pain pill prescription scheme involving clinics in West Virginia and Virginia, federal prosecutors said Monday.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Five doctors pleaded guilty in a pain pill prescription scheme involving clinics in West Virginia and Virginia, federal prosecutors said Monday.

The scheme was tied to the Hope Clinic and involved prescribing oxycodone and other controlled substances that weren’t for legitimate medical purposes from 2010 to 2015. Some prescriptions provided up to seven pills per day, and several Hope locations averaged 65 or more daily customers during a 10-hour workday with only one practitioner working, prosecutors said in a news release.

Hope Clinic had offices in Beckley, Beaver, and Charleston, West Virginia, and in Wytheville, Virginia.

Four of the physicians each pleaded guilty in federal court in Charleston to a felony count of aiding and abetting obtaining a controlled substance by fraud, the statement said.

Those physicians are William Earley, 66, of North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Brian Gullett, 45, of Clarksville, Pennsylvania; Roswell Tempest Lowry, 88, of Efland, North Carolina; and Vernon Stanley, 79, of Fayetteville, West Virginia.

Mark Clarkson, 64, of Princeton, West Virginia, pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor counts of aiding and abetting the misbranding of a drug involved in interstate commerce, the statement said.

“These pleas show our office’s continuing effort to protect lives and prevent future overdoses through all means possible,” U.S. Attorney Will Thompson said. “A lot of effort has gone into this case.”

Gullett, Earley and Stanley signed numerous oxycodone prescriptions for a customer at a Charleston Hope Clinic in 2013. They admitted that the customer’s medical chart did not support the prescriptions, which were not for a legitimate medical purpose, prosecutors said.

In August 2014, Lowry signed prescriptions for a Hope customer in Charleston for 180 oxycodone pills. He admitted intentionally not reading the customer’s chart to determine if those prescriptions were necessary. Instead, Lowry issued the same prescriptions for the customer that were provided by previous physicians, the statement said.

Gullett, Earley, Lowry and Stanley admitted the customers reported being addicted to pain medication, had failed or had abnormal drug screenings several times, bought pills on the street and sold pills from their Hope prescriptions to others. The physicians did not discuss the possibility of addiction or the need for addiction treatment with these customers, the statement said.

Clarkson admitted to helping Hope Clinic issue prescriptions after major retailers had stopped filling them and smaller pharmacies could not meet the demand of Hope customers. In 2014, Clarkson wrote illegitimate prescriptions for a total of 635 oxycodone pills for five different Hope customers in Virginia that were filled at Adkins Pharmacy in Gilbert, West Virginia, prosecutors said. Adkins Pharmacy agreed in 2020 to pay a $88,000 fine.

Sentencing for the physicians is scheduled for Dec. 22. Gullett, Earley, Lowry and Stanley face up to four years in prison and a $250,000 fine apiece. Clarkson faces up to five years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

The physicians were indicted in 2018 along with the owners, managers and other physicians associated with Hope Clinic and a group that managed Hope's daily operations. The remaining defendants are awaiting trial.

John Raby, The Associated Press