U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema sentenced Fairfax doctor Felicia Donald to seven years in prison for operating a “pill mill” at For Women OB/GYN Associates and NOVA Addiction Center. According to a Department of Justice press release, from April 2016 to April 2020 Donald distributed over $1.2 million worth of oxycodone and other controlled substances. Donald pled guilty on May 4, 2020.
“Donald admitted that she prescribed opioids to addicts and/or drug dealers who had traveled from out-of-state or long distances to her practice,” the press release states.
Donald also provided drugs to people with pending drug charges, people who had failed drug screening tests, and to people she knew would sell the drugs. Charges filed in May alleged that at least five other people helped distribute the drugs. According to The Associated Press, two workers in her office pled guilty and received lower sentences.
“Defense lawyers said she was easily manipulated and personally profited from the scheme by less than $25,000,” the AP said. Donald gave some patients opioids and alprazolam, also known as anxiety drug Xanax, “which Donald admitted is a dangerous combination of drugs that could have killed or caused serious bodily injury to the ultimate users,” the press release states.
Donald also paid employees with drug prescriptions, issued prescriptions to people in the name of other people who were unaware of the prescriptions, and falsified medical records, according to the press release.
“Donald also issued prescriptions for high doses of oxycodone to multiple women who were pregnant,” the press release adds.
After she pled guilty, the court granted a pre-trial release while Donald awaited sentencing. According to the press release, Donald falsely told the FBI and jail officials that she had been exposed to COVID-19. She also continued to practice medicine. She sought to obtain a loan from the Small Business Administration (SBA) without telling them of the court case.
The court subsequently revoked her pre-trial release.
“Donald fraudulently used SBA loan and/or Cares Act Paycheck Protection Program COVID-19 loans to fund her personal-related expenses, including thousands of dollars in legal fees related to this case,” the press release states.
In 2019, Virginia saw a high rate of fatal drug overdoses — 1,626, up from 1,486 in 2018, 1,537 in 2017, and 1,428 in 2016. In 2015, only 1,028 fatal drug overdoses were reported, but the number has been increasing for years, according to Virginia Department of Health (VDH) data. The VDH data also shows Fairfax County and other regions with large populations topping the list for fatal drug overdoses, although the percentage of fatal overdoses per 100,000 residents is much higher in low population areas.
Those numbers are getting worse during COVID-19. According to 13NewsNow, Virginia reported 634 fatal drug overdoses in the second quarter of 2020, up from 380 in the second quarter of 2019.
Neighboring states are seeing similar trends. “All across Western Maryland, in Washington County, we’re up like 46% overdose deaths year-to-date and remember, that’s on top of 2019 — a record year of deaths, 71,000 deaths,” Congressman David Trone (D-MD) told 22News.
Pharmaceutical manufacturers including Purdue Pharma have taken a lot of blame for helping to trigger the opioid crisis by heavily marketing drugs including oxycodone.
“According to a lawsuit filed by the Massachusetts attorney general, [Purdue] pushed big sales of OxyContin [oxycodone] from the start. Doing so meant persuading doctors who had been reluctant to prescribe such strong painkillers that this one was safe,” states a September 2019 AP article.
Donald was one source of illegally prescribed oxycodone.
“Donald flagrantly betrayed the public’s trust in the medical profession by unlawfully distributing highly addictive and potentially lethal drugs to patients and other individuals,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Zachary Terwilliger said. “The Eastern District of Virginia will continue to prosecute doctors who abandon their medical oath and hold them accountable for choosing profits over patients’ lives.”
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