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Five Memphis doctors, nurses indicted in federal opioid sting

April 19, 2019, Memphis, TN — Three Memphis-area doctors and two nurses have been indicted as part of one of the country’s largest federal drug busts for illegal distribution of prescription opioids.

A total of 53 doctors and other medical professionals nationwide were charged earlier this week, including the five Memphis doctors and nurses, for their alleged participation in distributing illegal opioids and other narcotics. Sixteen doctors and medical professionals in West Tennessee were charged in the sweep, said Michael Dunavant, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.

“Opioid misuse and abuse is an insidious epidemic, created in large part by the over-prescribing of potent opioids nationwide, and unfortunately Tennessee is at the center,” Dunavant said. “We will not stand by and allow the harmful and oftentimes deadly practice of over-prescribing highly addictive drugs to continue unchecked.”

Dr. Richard Farmer, 82, a psychiatrist in East Memphis, was arrested April 17. He is accused of writing nine prescriptions for opioids including oxycodone and hydrocodone to five patients in 2018 and 2017, “often in exchange for sexual favors or companionship,” according to the indictment. He is also accused of distributing opioids to a pregnant woman.

Farmer was charged with unlawful distributing and dispensing controlled substances and aiding and abetting. He posted a $25,000 bond and was released on the secured bond. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $1 million.

Farmer and the other medical professionals in states including Tennessee and Kentucky were charged during the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force initiative, or ARPO. The initiative brings together prosecutors and data analysts trained in opioid cases to work with federal, state and local law enforcement.

“Along with our partners, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will pursue medical personnel who misuse their positions of trust to blatantly disregard and endanger others’ very lives for their own financial gain,” Dunavant said.

Along with Farmer, charges were lodged against four other healthcare professionals in Memphis:

James Litton, 43, a former nurse practitioner in Memphis. He is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute and dispense controlled substances for drugs including Alprazaolam and Clonazepam at Consolidated Health Services in Memphis. He is also charged with medication and healthcare fraud, including billing for diagnostic testing. He posted a $10,000 secured bond and was released. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $1 million.
Kathryn Russell, a registered nurse, is accused of prescribing during an eight-week period opioids and other drug cocktails to people for "no legitimate medical purpose," the indictment states. According to the indictment, Russell was under the influence of drugs when she worked at Dillion Russell Health Professionals Inc in Memphis. She is charged with conspiracy to distribute and dispense controlled substance. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $1 million.
Dr. Michael Hellman, 72, is accused of writing three prescriptions for large amounts of drugs including codeine and promethazine to patients, including confidential informants, over a long period without any examinations. He saw the patients at his Collierville practice. He was charge with three counts of unlawfully distributing and dispensing controlled substances. He posted a $10,000 secured bond and was released. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $1 million.
Dr. Thomas Hughes, 69, a Memphis endocrinologist, is accused in a nine-count indictment with writing illegal testosterone prescriptions to himself and using other doctors’ drug enforcement administration numbers to get testosterone from 2007 to 2010. If convicted, he faces up to four years in prison and a fine up to $250,000. He posted a $1,000 unsecured bond and was released.
The federal arrests were the result of a four-month investigation headed by the ARPO initiative.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 115 Americans die every day from opioid-related overdoses.

In Memphis and Shelby County, there were 650 opioid-related deaths from 2013 to 2017, according to the Shelby County Health Department. In 2017, the health department said there were 159 who died from drug overdoses.

Source: Daily Memphian

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