Doctor Facing Life in Prison for Prescribing Thousands of Opioid Doses

This undated photo provided by the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority shows Dr. Jo
Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority

A Virginia doctor is facing up to life in prison for prescribing half a million doses of highly addictive opioids over the past two years.

Dr. Joel Smithers, a 36-year-old father of five, is facing up to life in prison after he was convicted in May of more than 800 counts of illegally prescribing drugs— including one prescription of oxycodone and oxymorphone that caused a West Virginia woman’s death, the Associated Press reported.

Authorities say that Smithers ran an interstate drug ring in multiple states— including West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and Virginia— instead of running a legitimate medical practice with adequate medical supplies.

Court documents state that the receptionist lived out of a back room and that many patients urinated and slept in the outdoor parking lot.

“He’s done great damage and contributed … to the overall problem in the heartland of the opioid crisis,” said Christopher Dziedzic, a supervisory special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) who oversaw the investigation into Smithers.

Many of Smithers’s patients drove hours to see him so they could obtain prescriptions for powerful painkillers.

The Associated Press reported that at his Wednesday sentencing the best he can hope for is a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years behind bars.

Other doctors found guilty of being responsible for patients’ opioid overdose deaths have been sentenced to life in prison. One judge sentenced a Kansas doctor for overprescribing his victim alprazolam, an anti-anxiety drug and methadone, which is used to wean people off of heroin, in March.

Another doctor from Florida was sentenced to life in prison— totaling 157 years— for overprescribing opioids and fueling the drug crisis in America.


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