January 21, 2015

State Says Doc’s Pain Pill Prescriptions Were ‘Red Flags’

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Dr. Ronald V. Myers Sr.

Anny Sivilay/Sequoyah County Times

Dr. Ronald V. Myers Sr.

The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs on Wednesday began presenting its case against a Sequoyah County doctor who it says prescribed 4.6 million doses of narcotics during 18 months in 2013 and 2014.

The administrative hearing against Dr. Ronald V. Myers Sr. was expected to continue all week and perhaps longer. The bureau is seeking to revoke Myers’ license to prescribe controlled dangerous substances in Oklahoma.

Myers, a family practice physician, jazz trumpeter, Baptist medical missionary and prominent advocate of compassionate pain care, is medical director of the Wellness Clinic in Roland, just across the state line from Fort Smith, Ark.

The narcotics bureau has accused Myers of overprescribing controlled substances at the Wellness Clinic and another clinic in Newcastle. In a separate action, the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision is attempting to discipline Myers for unprofessional conduct related to his prescribing activities. Possible punishments include loss of his license to practice.

According to documents filed by the two agencies, at least three overdose deaths have been linked to prescriptions signed by Myers.

In a previous legal filing, Myers denied most of the specific allegations against him. In an email to Oklahoma Watch, Myers said the overdose death allegations “have been proven false,” but declined to elaborate.

The state’s cases against Myers and the Wellness Clinic were detailed last month in an investigative report by Oklahoma Watch and The Oklahoman.

Showing up for Wednesday’s hearing wearing a Louisiana State University “LSU” cap, he told Oklahoma Watch he was eager to clear up the matter. His attorney, Warren Bickford, later said neither he nor Myers would comment while the hearing was in progress.

The state’s evidence against Myers was presented by Chris Smith, drug diversion agent in charge, who headed the bureau’s investigation of Myers and the Wellness Clinic.

Smith said he began looking into the clinic’s operations after being told in 2012 that it had become a major supply source of narcotic diversion in eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas.

After checking prescription databases in both states, Smith said the bureau determined that Myers personally had written prescriptions for 4.6 million dosage units over an 18-month period ending in June 2014. More than half of the prescriptions were filled at Arkansas pharmacies. Many were for oxycodone and hydrocodone, both of which are highly addictive opiate painkillers.

“When I started looking at the amounts of controlled substances … that raised red flags with me,” Smith said. “I had not seen prescriptions for oxycodone filled in those amounts.”

Smith said he visited the Wellness Clinic to interview principals there, and observed the scene outside the clinic with an undercover “pole cam” installed on a utility pole and controlled from his office in Lawton.

“Sometimes, there were maybe 30, 50 vehicles parked there,” Smith testified.

Smith said he met with several patients and many area pharmacists, some of whom characterized the clinic as a “pill mill.”

“Many of the pharmacists were suspicious,” Smith said. “Most of these people, they said, were younger, always paid cash, sometimes showed up in the same vehicle, sometimes showed up all at one time.”

Smith said he interviewed one former patient from Mississippi who made a 16-hour round trip to Roland every month to get her pain prescriptions refilled.

“She said it was because she could get what she wanted at the Roland clinic,” he said.

The bureau said it planned to present testimony over several days from other law enforcement agents, medical experts, patients and one of Myers’ former clinic colleagues. It was not clear whether Myers would speak in his own defense.