Columbus doctor sentenced to 6 years in prison for “pill mill” operation

Columbus doctor sentenced to 6 years in prison for “pill mill” operation
(Source: AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File/AP)

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - The final defendant in a “pill mill” operation working out of Valdosta and Columbus was sentenced in federal court this week and officials are saying this case is a prime example of just how harmful the criminal actions of these doctors can be.

On Wednesday, 69-year-old Dr. Vinod Shah was sentenced to six years in prison after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to illegally disperse drugs.

Shah is among a group of seven other doctors who have all been sentenced to jail for prescribing tens of thousands of prescriptions for addictive opioids to people who did not need them. Clinics that exercise the illegal and harmful practice are often refereed to as “pill mills.”

Investigators say the related crimes took place at two clinics: The Wellness Center of Valdosta in Valdosta and The Relief Institute of Columbus in Columbus. The Valdosta clinic started in or around July 2011, while operations in Columbus started a year later, according to the 2016 indictment.

The clinics operated on a cash-only basis and raked in more than $2 million in the unlawful sales of opioid prescriptions.

In his plea agreement, Shah admitted to seeing as many as 45 patients a day, many of whom had no legitimate need for the powerful prescriptions he gave them.

He was paid $1,200 a day during his employment, according to the United States Department of Justice.

Shah was trained in Valdosta under co-defendant Dr. William Bacon. There, he learned how to illegally prescribe “cocktails” of Oxycodone and Xanax to patients who did not need the addictive medicine.

After his training, Shah moved to Columbus and began the same “pill mill” practices, according to the United States Department of Justice.

All of the other indicted doctors were sentenced in December, including Bacon, who received 72 months in prison and was ordered to forfeit more than $95,000.

"Doctors are not above the law and our office will continue to hold doctors accountable for illegal practices that put powerful, addictive and dangerous painkillers and other substances into the hands of those who do not medically need them.” said Charles “Charlie” Peeler, the United States Attorney for the Middle District.

The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation.

Robert J. Murphy, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division said, “The devastation caused to human lives by prescription opioid abuse cannot be overstated. The prescription opioid epidemic that this country currently faces can be traced directly to unscrupulous medical practices where the practicing doctors and owners prosper while the patients suffer grievously.”

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