87-count indictment handed down in federal pill mill case

87-count indictment handed down in federal pill mill case
Dr. James Edwards, a psychiatrist with practices in Opelika and Gulf Shores, during a court hearing in July 2019.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - A federal grand jury has handed down a weighty superseding indictment in a pill mill investigation involving a Lee County psychiatrist.

The indictment charges Dr. James Edwards with 87 counts of distribution of a controlled substance. Those charges represent 10 patients who received controlled substances outside the course of general medical care, according to the indictment.

Court records indicate Edwards’s reportedly illegal prescribing practices date back to 2015, some of the patients listed in the indictment saw him for upwards of three years.

This is the second indictment against Edwards, he was previously charged with five counts of drug distribution.

Edwards was arrested in July 2019 as federal agents executed search warrants at his offices in Opelika and Gulf Shores. Aside from federal charges, prior court records indicate a physician and pharmacists lodged complaints against Edwards as early as 2016 concerning what they described as excessive prescribing habits.

According to an affidavit, DEA agents spoke to pharmacists at eleven different pharmacies, seven in Opelika and four in Gulf Shores, who shared similar accounts of Edwards’s prescribing habits. Multiple pharmacists indicated they contacted Edwards directly to share their concerns. One pharmacist said she was told not to question him. Edwards reportedly told another pharmacist the patient needed the medications. Walmart has a corporate policy against filling Edwards’s prescriptions based on his “prescribing practices," according to records.

Other court records indicate the DEA received another complaint against Edwards in the spring of 2019 from a mother whose son took his own life. The mother had written letters to Edwards because she suspected her son was abusing drugs. The affidavit says the week before her son passed away, she contacted Edwards’s office about his erratic behavior. He saw Edwards days before his death and received a prescription for Xanax. She felt Edwards’s prescribing habits contributed to her son’s death, according to those documents.

In May of 2018, the Alabama Medical Licensure Board issued an Order to Show Cause that alleged Dr. Edwards had “excessively dispensed controlled substances,” and ordered him to prove why his Alabama Controlled Substances Certificate, or ACSC "should not be revoked.”

State records show Edwards denied the allegation but reached a settlement with the Board. In light of the settlement, Edwards agreed that he was dispensing excessive amounts of stimulants and prescribed hazardous excessive doses of medications. The Board of Medical Examiners put Edwards on probation for at least 24 months. Dr. Edwards’s medical license became “active-conditional” following the settlement.

The Board gave Dr. Edwards 120 days to rectify his prescribing habits and ordered him to follow strict guidelines. It’s unclear if this finding by the Board prompted the federal charge and subsequent search warrants.

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