Five Physicians Plead Guilty to Federal Drug Crimes in Connection with HOPE Clinic
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Five physicians pleaded guilty in connection with prescription practices at HOPE Clinic, a purported pain management clinic that operated in Beckley, Beaver and Charleston, West Virginia, and Wytheville, Virginia.
Four of the physicians each pleaded guilty to a felony count of aiding and abetting obtaining a controlled substance by fraud: William Earley, D.O, 66, of North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Brian Gullett, D.O., 45, of Clarksville, Pennsylvania; Roswell Tempest Lowry, M.D., 88, of Efland, North Carolina; and Vernon Stanley, M.D., 79, of Fayetteville, West Virginia.
Mark Clarkson, D.O., 64, of Princeton, West Virginia, pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor counts of aiding and abetting the misbranding of a drug involved in interstate commerce.
According to court documents and statements made in court, from November 2010 until June 11, 2015, practitioners associated with HOPE (Hitech Opioid Pharmachovigilance Expertise) Clinic prescribed thousands of oxycodone- and morphine-based pills to individual customers. In some cases, these prescriptions provided an average of four to seven pills per day. Several HOPE Clinic locations averaged 65 or more customers a day during a 10-hour workday with only one practitioner working.
Gullett, Early and Stanley each signed multiple oxycodone prescriptions for a HOPE Clinic customer at the Charleston location for both 30 milligram and 15 milligram pills. The prescriptions were issued between March 13, 2013, and November 18, 2013, for a total of 390 pills. Gullett, Early and Stanley admitted that the customer’s medical chart did not support these prescriptions and that the prescriptions were not for a legitimate medical purpose in the usual course of professional medical practice.
Lowry signed prescriptions for a HOPE Clinic customer in Charleston for 180 oxycodone pills at 20 milligram and 15 milligram doses on August 12, 2014. Lowry admitted that he intentionally did not read the customer’s chart to determine if those prescriptions were for a legitimate medical purpose. Lowry instead issued the same prescriptions as previous physicians had for the customer.
Gullett, Earley, Lowry and Stanley each admitted that these customers had multiple failed or abnormal drug screenings, reported being addicted to pain medication, bought pills on the street, and sold pills from their HOPE Clinic prescriptions to others. Gullett, Earley, Lowry and Stanley further admitted that they did not discuss the possibility of addiction or the need for addiction treatment with these customers.
Clarkson admitted to helping HOPE Clinic issue prescriptions after major retailers had stopped filling them and smaller pharmacies could not meet the supply and demand of Hope Clinic customers. Some local pharmacies were enlisted by Patients, Physicians and Pharmacists Fighting Diversion (PPPFD), which managed HOPE Clinic’s daily operations, to compound oxycodone and other Schedule II controlled substances for HOPE Clinic customers. Because of restrictions on compounding a commercially available drug, HOPE Clinic physicians were instructed to write prescriptions for compound oxycodone in milligram doses that were not commercially available.
Clarkson wrote compound oxycodone prescriptions for five different HOPE Clinic customers at the Virginia location between October 2014 and December 2014. All five prescriptions were filled at Adkins Pharmacy in Gilbert, West Virginia, for a total of 635 pills at 32 milligram or 16 milligram doses. Clarkson admitted that none of the five customers had a legitimate medical need for prescriptions at 32 milligram or 16 milligram doses, as there was no therapeutic difference between those doses and commercially available doses.
Adkins Pharmacy agreed to pay $88,085.73 in civil monetary penalties in 2020. The settlement agreement resolved allegations that Adkins Pharmacy violated the Controlled Substances Act by filling illegitimate compound opioid prescriptions issued by physicians affiliated with HOPE Clinic. Adkins Pharmacy also entered into a three-year compliance agreement with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that imposes heightened reporting and oversight requirements and sanctions for non-compliance.
Gullett, Earley, Lowry, Stanley and Clarkson are scheduled to be sentenced on December 22, 2022. Gullett, Earley, Lowry and Stanley each face a maximum penalty of four years in prison, one year of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine. Gullett, Earley, Lowry and Stanley have also agreed to surrender their Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) certificates of registration and to not oppose revocation of their registration to dispense controlled substances. Lowry and Stanley have further agreed not to apply for re-registration, while Gullett and Early have agreed not to apply for re-registration to dispense Schedule II controlled substances. Clarkson faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison, one year of supervised release, and a $500,000 fine.
Gullett, Earley, Lowry, Stanley and Clarkson were initially indicted in 2018 along with the owners, managers and other physicians associated with HOPE Clinic and PPPFD. The remaining defendants are awaiting trial. An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
“These pleas show our office’s continuing effort to protect lives and prevent future overdoses through all means possible,” said United States Attorney Will Thompson. “A lot of effort has gone into this case.”
Thompson commended the investigative work of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI), the Food and Drug Administration-Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA-OCI), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the West Virginia State Police, the Metropolitan Drug Enforcement Network Team (MDENT), the Beckley Police Department, the Kentucky State Police, the Harrison County, Kentucky, Sheriff’s Department, and the Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force (AHIDTA).
United States District Judge Frank W. Volk presided over the hearings. Assistant United States Attorneys Monica Coleman, Steve Loew and Owen Reynolds are prosecuting the case.
This case is part of an ongoing effort led by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia to combat the illicit sale and misuse of prescription drugs and heroin. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, joined by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, is committed to aggressively pursuing and shutting down pill trafficking, eliminating open air drug markets, and curtailing the spread of opiate painkillers and heroin in communities across the Southern District.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia. Related court documents and information can be found on PACER by searching for Case Nos. 5:18-cr-26, 2:22-cr-167, 2:22-cr-168, 2:22-cr-169, 2:22-cr-170 and 2:22-cr-176.