Four Life Sentences Upheld for ‘Pill Mill’ Doc

     (CN) – Supreme Court precedent will not topple quadruple life sentences for a drug-dealing doctor whose prescriptions caused four patient deaths, the Sixth Circuit ruled.
     During his less than two years at Tri-State Health Clinic, a cash-only practice in Portsmouth, Ohio, that saw 18 to 20 patients a day, dispensing a high volume of pain medication, Dr. Paul Volkman had 12 patients die.
     Volkman took the job at Tri-State after a spate of legal woes left him without malpractice insurance or a job in 2003. He obtained both a medical degree and a doctorate in pharmacology from the University of Chicago.
     Investigators found that Volkman had issued one patient with a history of drug addiction a prescription for oxycodone, Soma, Lortab, and Xanax – 660 pills in total.
     When local pharmacies became unwilling to dispense the clinic’s prescriptions on the basis of improper dosing, Volkman opened a dispensary in the clinic.
     After the feds raided the clinic, a grand jury indicted various officials with the practice, including Volkman, on a series of charges, including unlawful distribution of a controlled substance leading to death.
     An Ohio jury convicted Volkman on four such counts, plus other charges, for which he was sentenced to four consecutive life terms. Those sentences were to be served concurrently with the 20 years he got other charges.
     All four of the patients whose deaths were tied to Volkman had died within 48 hours of leaving his office with a new prescription.
     Though the Sixth Circuit affirmed Volkman’s sentences in 2013, the Supreme Court summarily vacated that decision last year, citing its Jan. 27, 2014, decision Burrage v. United States.
     In Burrage, the high court tossed out a conviction against a dealer whose heroin was one of many drugs in the system of a dead addict.
     The 6th Circuit reconsidered Volkman’s case on remand but again affirmed the former doctor’s conviction Friday, ruling that a reasonable jury could have found that Volkman’s prescriptions of oxycodone to four patients had no legitimate medical purpose, and were the cause of each of their deaths.
     Volkman’s recollection of events “turns a blind eye to quite a bit of evidence,” Judge Bernice Bouie Donald said, writing for the three-judge panel in Cincinnati.
     The doctor was well aware, for example, that area pharmacists refused to fill his prescriptions, believing them to be feeding addicts’ habits, according to the ruling.
     “There was sufficient evidence to show that Volkman was hardly the blissfully-ignorant doctor he now makes himself out to be,” Donald wrote. “A rational trier of fact could have easily concluded that the entire enterprise of dispensing pills straight from the clinic was Volkman’s brainchild. That same trier of fact could have determined it was highly unlikely that Volkman – a man who prided himself on knowing the inner workings of his clinic – was unaware of the clinic’s profits.”
     Donald also found it appropriate for the trial court to have applied both the vulnerable-victim enhancement and the special-skills enhancement.
     Though “drug addicts are not necessarily vulnerable victims,” a number of Volkman’s patients had “serious psychiatric problems, and even prior suicide attempts,” qualifying them for vulnerable-victim status, the decision states.
     Other doctors in similar positions have not been sentenced to such long prison terms, but Donald said each of Volkman’s life sentences falls within the guidelines ranges.

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