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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Alabama

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, March 17, 2017

First Nurse Practitioner Sentenced In The Dr. Ruan & Dr. Couch Pill Mill Case

Acting United States Attorney Steve Butler of the Southern District of Alabama announces that Bridgette Parker has been sentenced to 20 months in federal prison for her role in the operation of the massive pill mill run by Dr. Xiulu Ruan and Dr. John Patrick Couch.
 
After years of experience as an operating room nurse, Bridgette Parker went back to school and earned a Master’s degree in nursing.  Upon completion, Parker was hired as a nurse practitioner by Physicians Pain Specialists of Alabama ¬— the pain clinic co-owned and operated by Dr. Ruan and Dr. Couch.   Parker initially worked under Dr. Ruan until she was fired in December 2012.  That same day, Dr. Couch rehired her as a nurse practitioner under him.  While working for both doctors, Parker knowingly and intentionally conspired to prescribe various Controlled Substances outside the usual course of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose.  This included the prescribing of Subsys and Abstral — both of which are brand name forms of instant release fentanyl, a Schedule II Controlled Substance.
 
 During the recent trial of Dr. Ruan and Dr. Couch, Parker testified that she regularly saw patients on her own without oversight from either doctor.  Parker further admitted that she often went to fellow nurse practitioner and co-defendant Justin Palmer and requested that he forge Dr. Couch’s signatures on prescriptions for Controlled Substances.  In addition, Parker admitted, and other evidence corroborated, that she was abusing drugs in the office and was frequently impaired while seeing patients.

Based on her substantial assistance, including her testimony in the trial against Dr. Ruan and Dr. Couch, Parker received a 50% sentence reduction recommendation from the United States.  The Court accepted this recommendation, and then sentenced Parker to serve 20 months in federal prison for her criminal actions.

Following the sentencing hearing, Acting U.S. Attorney Steve Butler stated, “The United States appreciates Ms. Parker’s substantial assistance in the prosecution of Dr. Ruan and Dr. Couch.  Had she not assisted as she did, Ms. Parker would undoubtedly be spending more than 20 months in federal prison.  Dr. Ruan and Dr. Couch could not have operated their criminal enterprise to the degree they did without the active assistance of Ms. Parker.”

The Drug Enforcement Agency echoed this sentiment:  “It is disheartening when trusted professionals like nurse practitioners are engaged in the diversion of controlled substances,” said DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Bret Hamilton.  “All DEA Registrants have an obligation to ensure that medications are getting into the hands of legitimate patients.  Any registrant who violates or blatantly ignores their obligations will be held accountable.  The conviction and sentence of Bridgette Parker is a result of DEA’s continued commitment to hold accountable those who participate in illegally dispensing controlled substances in our communities.” 

In addition, Robert Laskey, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mobile Division, noted that, “Today’s sentence is a reflection of the FBI’s commitment to ensure that our nation’s healthcare system provides safe and effective care to the community that it serves.”

This matter was jointly investigated by the DEA-Mobile and FBI-Mobile, and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christopher Bodnar and Deborah Griffin.

Updated March 17, 2017