(STL.News) – A federal jury found a West Virginia doctor guilty today of unlawfully distributing opioids to his patients. The defendant was charged in a September 2019 indictment as part of the second Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid (ARPO) Strike Force Takedown, a coordinated effort by the Justice Department’s Fraud Section to target unlawful drug diversion activities in areas of the country particularly hard-hit by the opioid epidemic.
Following a six-day trial, Ricky L. Houdersheldt, D.O., 68, of Hurricane, West Virginia, was found guilty of 17 counts of distribution of controlled substances outside the scope of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose. Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 23, 2020, before U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers of the Southern District of West Virginia, who presided over the trial.
According to the evidence presented at trial, Houdersheldt prescribed hydrocodone, morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone, acetaminophen codeine phosphate, and diazepam to three patients which were outside the usual course of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose. Evidence at trial established that Houdersheldt prescribed more than 150 opioid pills to one female patient in an effort to establish a sexual relationship and companionship with her, and that in many instances he would meet her in parking lots – rather than at his medical office – to provide the prescriptions for these drugs. Evidence at trial also showed that Houdersheldt did not record these prescriptions in the female patient’s patient file for some of these unnecessary opioid prescriptions, and that many patients became addicted to the drugs as a result of Houdersheldt’s criminal conduct.
The evidence further established that for one of the patients, Houdersheldt prescribed more than seven times the dosage of opioid drugs recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, and that he commonly prescribed this patient the dangerous combination of morphine and the powerful opioid fentanyl.
The DEA, along with the Hurricane, West Virginia Police Department, investigated the case. Assistant Chief Kilby Macfadden and Trial Attorney Andrew B. Barras of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.
The Fraud Section leads the ARPO Strike Force. Since its inception in October 2018, the ARPO Strike Force, which operates in 10 districts, has charged more than 70 defendants who are collectively responsible for distributing approximately 50 million pills. Thus far there have been 30 guilty pleas as a result of ARPO Strike Force’s efforts. The ARPO Strike Force is part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force Program, led by the Fraud Section. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 15 strike forces operating in 24 districts, has charged more than 4,200 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for approximately $19 billion. In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-Office of Inspector General, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.