A former Richland doctor has admitted to putting highly addictive pain relievers in the hands of hundreds of strangers by handing blank, but pre-signed prescription forms to his office manager.
Janet S. Arnold told a federal judge that she prescribed drugs like fentanyl and oxycodone without knowing who would get the drugs.
She admitted that there was no legitimate medical reason to allow Danielle C. Mata free rein on her prescription pad, instead of taking the time herself to review patient charts and to meet them in his family practice Desert Wind.
Mata – described by Senior Judge Ed Shea as both an addict and a drug trafficker – is one of four other defendants in the three-year-pending case.
Arnold was the last to plead guilty for her role in operating the pill mill. She was tried later this month in Richland U.S. District Court.
Last week she admitted being charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances “outside the ordinary course of (her) professional practice”.
Opioid pain relievers included fentanyl, oxycodone, methadone, hydromorphone, methylphenidate and a mixture of amphetamines, as well as carisoprodol and alprazolam.
At one point during the hour-long hearing, Judge Shea asked whether Arnold was aware that there was a high likelihood that her co-defendants were distributing controlled substances and that she was deliberately avoiding learning the truth.
“I should have known, yes, your honor,” she replied.
Shea noted that this is not a “standard street (or) drug dealer organization.” This is a violation of medical practice which results in a charge of conspiracy.
His sentence is set for December 7. That’s when federal prosecutors will dismiss 64 more counts of distribution and attempted distribution.
Arnold faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, although prosecutors have said they would recommend a sentence towards the lower end of the sentence range of around nine years.
The 63-year-old Benton City woman has not been detained until then.
Desert Wind Family Practice at 431 Wellsian Way was raided by Drug Enforcement Administration agents in May 2017.
Arnold owned and operated the practice and had been a physician since 1998.
Her medical license has been suspended the following month and then, in March 2018, his license was revoked by the state while the federal criminal investigation into his practice was underway.
Arnold was indicted by a federal grand jury in September 2018.
Also indicted: Mata, 44, from Richland; David Barnes Nay, 43, of Kennewick; Lisa M. Cooper, 55, of Prosser; and Jennifer C. Prichard, 46, from Prosser.
They have previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess opioid pain relievers and other controlled substances with the intention of distributing them.
Their sentencing hearings are scheduled for October and November.
“Abandoned his role”
“Dr. Arnold has given up his role as physician by essentially handing over his prescription pad to his office manager and others,” said Joseph H. Harrington, acting US attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, in a statement. Press release.
“(His) guilty plea should serve as a warning to all healthcare professionals that if you abuse your medical license by prescribing opioids and other drugs without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the ordinary course of professional practice , you will be held responsible. “
He commended officers from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services for their work on the case.
Federal prosecutors said Arnold pre-signed the blank prescription forms between March 2016 and early May 2017.
The forms were then handed over to Mata, Prichard and Cooper, who either gave the illegal prescriptions to the people or used them personally to obtain the drug of their choice from pharmacies in the area.
Mata was responsible for filling each prescription with the patient’s name, drug type, dosage and quantity, according to Harrington’s press release.
“Dr. Arnold’s practice of pre-signing blank prescription forms enabled conspirators, including Nay, a drug trafficker and addict, to distribute significant amounts of opioid drugs and other controlled substances,” says the press release.
As part of the plea deal, Arnold waived his right to appeal the conviction or sentence.