SOUTHERN West Virginia has trouble attracting good doctors, but it sure can attract the crooked ones. After lengthy investigations by law enforcement, federal prosecutors put Drs. William F. Ryckman and Diane E. Shafer behind bars.
Additionally, Dr. Ryckman's office manager, Myra Sue Miller, was sentenced to prison for her role in pushing drugs.
These doctors ran pill mills in Williamson where they used their privilege to write prescriptions to peddle powerful pain medications and psychotropic drugs that people abused for cheap highs.
While technically, the doctors committed no violent crime, their prescriptions helped fuel drug overdose deaths. West Virginia leads the nation in overdose deaths per 100,000 people and the overwhelming majority of those deaths involve prescription drugs.
But U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin is taking the punishment one step further by stripping the assets these doctors acquired from their pill pushing practices.
In a ceremony on Monday, Goodwin handed an oversized check to Col. Jay Smithers, superintendent of the State Police, representing the $341,937.61 state share of the more than $1.5 million in cash and assets the federal government seized from Miller and Dr. Ryckman.
"This pill mill did enormous harm across a wide swath of Mingo County and beyond," Goodwin said. "Now we've put its operators in prison and hit them in the pocketbook, to the tune of more than $1.5 million."
When used properly, these medications are a godsend to people wracked with chronic pain or mental illness. When abused, they are a scourge on society.
Shutting down the pill mill doctors is only a part of the answer. The state needs to reduce demand as well.
"People were lined up down the street to get their fix," Goodwin said. "There was drug dealing going on down the street. It's made an enormous difference in this area and the region."
Shutting down and jailing these crooked doctors was an enormous task and a great victory in this battle.