United States doctor sentenced to 40 years for opioid prescriptions

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Friday, October 4, 2019

Dr. Joel Smithers, undated booking photo
Image: Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority.

On Wednesday, a United States federal judge sentenced a doctor based in Martinsville, Virginia to prison for 40 years for prescribing opioids illegally, after prescribing over half a million doses. He was given a fine of US$86,000. Three years of supervision after release was also mandated.

Dr. Joel Smithers was found guilty in May on 859 counts of illegally distributing opioids. This included prescriptions for oxycodone and oxymorphone tied to a West Virginia woman's death. Prosecutors said Smithers gave out the prescriptions to patients from five different states, some driving to his office from hundreds of miles away, from 2015 to 2017. United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen said Smithers "perpetuated, on a massive scale, the vicious cycle of addiction, despair, and destruction."

Judge James Parker Jones, presiding in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Abingdon, handed down the sentence. Mandatory sentencing called for at least 20 years in prison and up to life in prison. The judge recommended mental health treatments and a prison near his family, according to WSET-TV. Smithers, 36 years old, is married and has five children.

Smithers testified in his own defense, claiming some patients deceived him. He also filed in court his intent to appeal.