A Montgomery, Alabama, family doctor faces up to 40 years in prison for doling out prescription opioids painkillers like candy from his clinic and laundering the money to hide his illegal operation.
“When a maverick doctor prescribes opioids to someone who isn’t entitled to them, and over prescribes, he’s committing a felony and he is as bad as the Mexican cartel,” U.S. Attorney George Beck said about Alabama doctor Robert Ritchea.
Ritchea pleaded guilty earlier this week to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and money laundering. Court documents reveal that people showed up in droves, some traveling across state lines in buses or vans to get prescriptions for the powerful painkillers. They would fill them at various pharmacies hoping to skirt detection. Some were using the drugs. Some were selling them on the streets. Some were overdosing.
Court documents show that one local pharmacist became suspicious when he noticed the volume of prescriptions he was filling for opioids. Most pharmacies fill about 600 Roxicodone (oxycodone) pills in a week. His pharmacy was filling nearly seven times that amount.
Several pharmacists became suspicious, and reported Ritchea to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and some refused to fill opioid prescriptions written by him. “The pharmacists did what they should do and cut his supply off,” Beck said.
Desperate to keep his business going, Ritchea went straight to the drug manufacturer to purchase the drugs, enabling him to dispense them from the privacy of his office.
Richea faces up to 40 years in prison for both charges, is no longer practicing, and has surrendered his medical license. He was taken into custody immediately after the hearing and will be detained until sentencing. The action marks one small step toward curbing the country’s prescription drug epidemic. Recent studies show that Alabama leads the nation in prescription opioid use.
“If America doesn’t get in control of its drugs, its drugs are going to get in control of America,” Beck said.