Panama City, Florida, physician Dr. Freddie Williams has been convicted on all counts of a 94-count indictment charging him with improperly prescribing opioid pain relievers. A federal jury reached the verdict after three hours of deliberation on June 16.
The verdict in the Williams case marks the second successful prosecution of a Florida panhandle pain physician. In 2002, Dr. James Graves was convicted of the Oxycontin-related deaths of patients. He is currently serving a 63-year sentence while appealing the verdict. Prosecutors in South Florida were forced to drop similar charges against another physician, Dr. Dennis Deonarine, earlier this year.
The prosecutions are part of a nationwide campaign against prescription drug abuse led by the Bush administration and eagerly embraced by state and federal prosecutors across the country. According to the American Academy of Physicians and Surgeons (http://www.aapsonline.org), dozens of doctors from coast to coast have been prosecuted on similar charges. More have faced scrutiny and discipline from state medical boards.
Florida prosecutors portrayed Dr. Williams as a mercenary who was not interested in treating patients. Williams was "a drug dealer with a medical license," said Assistant US Attorney Stephen Kunz during opening arguments. "This is about a doctor peddling controlled substances, highly addictive opiates, for cash money."
According to prosecutors, Williams' office files showed little or no justification for the prescribing. Williams took the stand in his defense and conceded prescribing Oxycontin to his two daughters without having complete medical files on them and even though one of them had a history of using crack cocaine. But he denied the broader allegations.
According to Williams' defense lawyer, Armando Garcia, Williams kept poor records and sometimes lost case files, but that make him unprofessional or irresponsible. Williams could be "sloppy, lazy, and negligent," Garcia told jurors, but that did not make him a criminal. Williams had been deceived by some patients who were addicts and lied to obtain drugs, said Garcia. "Maybe he's just a little too naive," Garcia said. "Maybe he believed people he shouldn't have believed."
Now he faces life in prison.
Visit http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/341/freddiewilliams.shtml for earlier coverage of the Williams case.