Virginia Doctor Who Illegally Prescribed 500,000 Opioid Doses Sentenced to 40 Years in Prison


A Virginia doctor received 40 years in prison this week after he illegally prescribed opioids to a number of patients, ultimately leading to the death of one woman in West Virginia.

Dr. Joel Smithers was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Abingdon on Wednesday by Judge James Jones after being convicted in May of more than 800 counts of illegally distributing opioids, NBC News reports.

From 2015 to 2017, authorities believe Smithers, 36, illegally distributed more than 500,000 doses of opioids, including oxycodone, oxymorphone and fentanyl, to patients across Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio and Tennessee.

The doctor, who was based out of Martinsville, Virginia, faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years and a maximum of life in prison, but was ultimately given 40 years with no chance of parole, according to WSET-TV.

Though U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen acknowledged that the sentence was “severe,” he said in the courtroom that he hopes it would serve “as just punishment for an individual whose actions caused the death of one person and wrecked the lives of many others.”

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“This physician perpetuated, on a massive scale, the vicious cycle of addiction and despair,” Cullen said, according to WSET-TV. “I am grateful for the hard work of our federal, state, and local partners and am committed to continuing the vital work of prosecuting corrupt health-care providers.”

In court, Smithers claimed that he was taken advantage of by his patients, whom he deeply cared for. Some of those patients fiercely defended him and claimed that they needed his prescriptions to cope with the chronic pain they were suffering from.

However, it was later revealed through other patients’ testimonies that the doctor lacked basic medical supplies in his office, would prescribe medication without physical exams or medical records, and did not accept insurance, according to TIME.

Smithers was also said to have a receptionist who lived in a backroom during the workweek, as well as patients who slept outside and urinated in the parking lot, WSET-TV reports.

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His receptionist testified that some patients would wait up to 12 hours to see Smithers, who occasionally kept his office open past midnight, according to TIME.

“People only went there for one reason, and that was just to get pain medication that they could abuse themselves or sell it for profit,” a DEA agent on the Smithers case stated, per WSET-TV.

Throughout the two years that Smithers illegally prescribed opioids, he accumulated $700,000 from the pill sales.

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Judge Jones recommended that Smithers, who is a married father of five, serve his sentence in a facility close to his family and receive mental health treatment after his defense argued that he suffers from bipolar disorder, WSET-TV reports.

Smithers’ lawyer, Donald M. Williams Jr., also claimed that his client suffered from depression and anxiety, according to TIME. Through a spokesperson, his family members stated that they believe his actions were influenced by personal stress and emotional and mental strain.

Smithers reportedly has plans to appeal his conviction. The doctor’s attorney did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.


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