Justice News

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Tennessee Physician Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison for Hydrocodone Distribution Resulting in Death

A Tennessee physician was sentenced today in the Western District of Tennessee to 20 years in prison for his unlawful prescribing of opioids that caused the death of one of his patients.

According to court documents, Thomas K. Ballard III, 63, of Jackson, a medical doctor, owned and operated the Ballard Clinic, where he prescribed controlled substances outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose. Among other things, Ballard engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with several female patients while he ignored red flags that they were abusing the medications he prescribed. These abuses were often reflected in Ballard’s own medical records. 

Ballard’s unlawful prescribing to one patient led to her death. Ballard’s treatment records indicated that he believed the patient had psychiatric issues, overutilized medication, had engaged in manipulation, and fabricated personal trauma. The records also reflected that the patient had been incarcerated, received prescriptions elsewhere for Suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid dependency disorder, and that she had abnormal drug testing results, including because of what Ballard believed was tampering. Nevertheless, Ballard prescribed the patient hydrocodone repeatedly, including on May 28, 2015. She fatally overdosed on the prescription drug the following day. On June 23, 2021, Ballard pleaded guilty to one count of illegal drug distribution resulting in death.

“Today’s sentence reflects the gravity of physicians causing death by illegally prescribing opioids,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Loss of life is a tragic outcome of physicians like Ballard acting as drug dealers instead of doctors. Those responsible for fatal overdoses – especially those who are in positions of trust like Ballard – must be held accountable for their roles in the opioid epidemic. This serious criminal conduct requires serious consequences.”

“With blatant disregard for the Hippocratic Oath, Ballard endangered his patients’ lives through illegitimate and reckless prescribing,” said Administrator Anne Milgram of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). “DEA tirelessly pursues the people responsible for flooding our nation with illegal drugs, to include doctors who misuse their positions for personal gain. Those who supply opioids illegally have one thing in common: they demonstrate total disregard for the lives and safety of those who live in our communities. DEA will continue to battle the U.S. opioid epidemic one case at a time, and today’s sentencing demonstrates our commitment to justice.”

“Physicians are entrusted to care for patients and prescribe medically necessary medications. The death of a vulnerable woman exemplifies the devastating impact of Ballard’s disregard for his patients and profession,” said Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “Working closely with our law enforcement partners, HHS-OIG will continue to hold accountable medical professionals whose illicit activities endanger the lives of patients in their care.”

“It’s extremely disappointing to see a member of the medical community totally disregard his Hippocratic Oath,” said Special Agent in Charge Terry Reed of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), Medicaid Fraud Division. “Ballard put his patients at risk in order to satisfy his greed and will now spend time in federal prison for recklessly prescribing highly addictive and powerful opioids. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and its law enforcement partners will continue to expose the greed and deceit taking precedence over patient care.” 

The DEA, HHS-OIG, and TBI investigated the case.

Trial Attorneys Drew Pennebaker and Emily Petro of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section prosecuted the case.

The Fraud Section leads the department’s Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid (ARPO) Strike Force. Since its inception in October 2018, the ARPO Strike Force, which operates in 10 federal districts, has charged more than 85 defendants who collectively are responsible for distributing more than 65 million pills. The ARPO Strike Force is part of the Health Care Fraud Strike Force Program, which since March 2007 has charged more than 4,200 defendants who collectively have billed the Medicare program for more than $19 billion. In addition, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services, are taking steps to hold providers accountable for their involvement in health care fraud schemes. More information can be found at https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/health-care-fraud-unit.

Topic(s): 
Opioids
Press Release Number: 
21-1025
Updated October 19, 2021