Florida panhandle physician Dr. Freddie Williams went on trial beginning June 3 on charges he improperly prescribed opioid pain relievers, including the notorious Oxycontin, a hydrocodone formulation manufactured by Purdue Pharma. In opening statements, a federal prosecutor told the jury Williams was "a drug dealer with a medical license."
The prosecution is the latest in a nationwide wave of arrests and trials of pain doctors engineered by federal and local prosecutors with the help of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and local law enforcement agencies. It comes in the midst of a campaign called by drug czar John Walters this spring to crack down on the illicit use of prescription drugs.
And it is the second in the Florida panhandle. In 2002, Dr. James Graves was sentenced to 63 years in prison after being convicted of manslaughter for the Oxycontin-related deaths of patients. He sits in prison as he appeals the verdict. South Florida prosecutors were forced to drop murder charges against another physician, Dr. Dennis Deonarine (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/323/florida.shtml).
"This is about a doctor peddling controlled substances, highly addictive opiates, for cash money," said Assistant US Attorney Stephen Kunz in his opening statement, according to an Associated Press account. He would prove that Williams put profit ahead of principle, he said, and that Williams prescribed drugs to "known addicts."
Williams maintains his innocence. Defense attorney Armando Garcia told the court Williams should not be blamed for patients who lied in order to obtain prescriptions. "Simply because someone becomes dependent on a substance does not make the doctor who prescribed the substance a criminal," Garcia said.
That's not what the prosecution thinks. They charged Williams with 93 separate charges, including 57 counts of illegally dispensing drugs and 30 counts of fraud related to the allegedly improper prescriptions. And just in case, they threw in a pair of conspiracy counts and a count of committing a felony while in possession of a weapon, i.e. owning a gun.
The trial is expected to last three weeks.