One pill mill doctor, 118,000 prescriptions
PRESCRIPTION drug abuse is a nationwide problem. West Virginia is second in drug overdoses per capita not because of meth or bath salts, but because of the abuse of medications that should be supervised by trained physicians.
A case before U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver illustrated that all it takes is for one doctor to damage hundreds, if not thousands, of lives.
Dr. Diane Shafer, 60, operated a pill mill in Mingo County from 2003 to 2010.
She pleaded guilty to conspiring to misuse a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration registration number.
In seeking probation for her, Shafer's attorney pointed out that she was the only orthopedic surgeon in a 10-county area and had provided a good deal of charity care. He also pointed to letters from community leaders urging lenience.
But Shafer was the state's 10th most prolific prescriber of controlled substances, surpassing some hospitals in the quantity of drugs authorized.
She issued 118,000 prescriptions for pain and anxiety medications during those years.
In sentencing Shafer to six months behind bars, Copenhaver pointed out that people stood in long lines on the sidewalk outside her office to pay $150 to $200 for a quick examination and prescription, and $75 for a return trip.
"This was part of the pill mill syndrome that's been visited upon Mingo County," the judge told her. "You helped flood the area with prescriptions."
In 1993, Shafer faced ethics allegations in Kentucky over her prescription practices and her handling of worker' compensation cases. She secretly married the official who presided over the case and gave him $42,500.
She was convicted of bribery in 1993, but the conviction was overturned on appeal.
Shafer will spend six months behind bars after this guilty plea.
Shafer was a one-woman wrecking crew who left signed prescription slips at her office in Williamson for her staff to hand out.
The result was the society-damaging addiction from which so many West Virginians suffer.
It is too bad the sentence could not be longer.