North Carolina

Doctor living in NC convicted on 861 charges for illegal prescriptions, officials say

Why it’s so hard to break an opioid addiction

More than half a million people died between 2000 and 2015 from opioid use. In 2017 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the national opioid crisis a public health emergency.
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More than half a million people died between 2000 and 2015 from opioid use. In 2017 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the national opioid crisis a public health emergency.

A 36-year-old doctor from North Carolina was found guilty of hundreds of federal drug charges and is facing at least 20 years in prison.

Joel Smithers, of Greensboro, was convicted Thursday after a jury heard evidence that the doctor “prescribed controlled substances to every patient in his practice,” according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Smithers for two years ran an office in Martinsville, Virginia, that attracted patients from hundreds of miles away, federal investigators say. His operation resulted in the distribution of more than 500,000 drugs, including the synthetic opioid fentanyl, according to the Department of Justice.

Jurors determined opioids the doctor “prescribed to a woman from West Virginia caused her death,” the federal agency said.

U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen said in a prepared statement that Smithers “perpetuated, on a massive scale, the vicious cycle of addiction, despair, and destruction.”

Smithers was convicted on counts of possessing drugs with the intent to distribute them, having a place for illegally distributing drugs and illegally prescribing drugs, the federal agency said.

This week’s trial came after officials in 2017 searched Smithers’ office, The Center for Integrative Health at Smithers Community Healthcare, and arrested the doctor, the Department of Justice said in a previous news release.

Smithers, who could spend the rest of his life in prison, is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 16.

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