By DAN SEWELL
The Associated Press
CINCINNATI - Federal authorities said Wednesday they have charged 60 people, including a Milton, W.Va., psychiatrist and a doctor accused of trading drugs for sex, for their roles in illegally prescribing and distributing millions of pills containing opioids and other drugs.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman of Cincinnati described the action, with 31 doctors facing charges, as the biggest known takedown yet of drug prescribers.
Robert Duncan, U.S. attorney for eastern Kentucky, called the doctors involved "white-coated drug dealers."
Authorities said the 60 includes 53 medical professionals tied to some 350,000 prescriptions and 32 million pills. The operation was conducted by the federal Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force, launched last year by the Trump administration.
Authorities said arrests were being made and search warrants carried out as they announced the charges at a news conference. They didn't immediately name those being charged.
U.S. health authorities have reported there were more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017, for a rate of 21.7 per 100,000 people.
West Virginia and Ohio have regularly been among the states with the highest overdose death rates as the opioid crisis has swelled in recent years.
Among those charged was Dr. Marc J. Spelar, a psychiatrist from Milton, who was arrested and charged by indictment with 10 counts of unlawful distribution of controlled substances involving more than 800 prescriptions and over 17,000 opioid pills.
"Today's effort is only the first of many more significant enforcement efforts to ensure the safety of our citizens," said U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart of the Southern District of West Virginia, in a news release. "Drug dealers in lab coats are still drug dealers."
Spelar is accused of distributing Schedule II narcotics, including dextroamphetamine, methylphenidate and amphetamine salt, to a patient who did not have a medical need for the drugs and whom the doctor never examined even though the patient had a history of abusing drugs, according to Stuart's office.
According to Herald-Dispatch archives, Spelar, along with a female co-defendant, was charged separately by a Lawrence County grand jury in 2017 with possession of cocaine, trafficking in drugs, two counts of possession of drugs, endangering children and possession of drug abuse instruments.
Dr. Chad Poage, of Morgantown, also was named in an indictment unsealed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday. Poage, indicted in federal district court in the Northern District of West Virginia, is an orthopedic surgeon accused of writing a fraudulent prescription to obtain tablets of acetaminophen-codeine for his personal use.
Elsewhere, a Tennessee doctor who dubbed himself the "Rock Doc" is accused of prescribing dangerous combinations of drugs such as fentanyl and oxycodone, sometimes in exchange for sex, authorities said.
Others include a Kentucky doctor who is accused of writing prescriptions to Facebook friends who came to his home to pick them up, another who allegedly left signed blank prescriptions for staff to fill out and give to patients, and a Kentucky dentist accused of removing teeth unnecessarily and scheduling unneeded follow-up appointments.
A Dayton, Ohio, doctor was accused of running a "pill mill" that allegedly dispensed 1.75 million pills in a two-year period. Authorities said an Alabama doctor recruited prostitutes and other women he had sexual relations with to his clinic and allowed them to abuse drugs in his home.
Most of those charged came from the five strike force states of Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia. One person each was also arrested in Pennsylvania and Louisiana.
"The opioid crisis is the deadliest drug crisis in American history, and Appalachia has suffered the consequences more than perhaps any other region," U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a statement in Washington.
Barr and U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen also announced Wednesday that the ARPO Strike Force will expand into the Western District of Virginia, making it the 10th ARPO Strike Force district.
Anyone who believes they may be a victim in any of these cases or in connection with any charged defendant is encouraged to visit https://www.justice.gov/criminal-vns/case/ARPO for additional information.
HD Media reporters contributed to this story.