Doctor Sent to Prison for Illegally Prescribing Opioids

Pills and handcuffs.

While it is true that most doctors want what is best for their patients there is no denying that there have been doctors out there who have put their greed above the well-being of others. Thankfully, law enforcement has begun to crack down on the doctors who have behaved more like drug dealers than medical professionals.

Over the past twenty years, the United States has experienced the growth of an addiction epidemic unlike anything ever seen before. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that more than 700,000 people have died from a drug overdose in the United States between the years of 1999 and 2017. In 2017 alone 70,000 people died from a drug overdose, 68% of which were related to some form of opioid, either illicit or prescribed.

A major source of this problem has been the flood of prescription-strength opioids into communities all over the country. The drastic increase in opioid prescriptions has triggered an irreversible chain of events that we are still experiencing the consequences of today. One doctor in particular who took advantage of this situation has recently been the focus of much investigation.

Dr. Joel Smithers ran a medical office in Martinsville, VA that operated as more of a “pill mill” than a legitimate doctor's office. His clinic prescribed controlled substances to every patient that visited his practice which resulted in the distribution of more than 500,000 doses of opioids in a span of two years. Many of his patients would drive hundreds of miles to see him. Authorities described the office as an interstate drug-distribution network that included surrounding areas in Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia.

According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Virginia: “Smithers did not accept insurance and took in over $700,000 in cash and credit card payments prior to a search warrant being executed at his office on March 7, 2017.” Smithers’ office would often stay open well past midnight to accommodate his lengthy list of clientele, many of whom would wait more than 12 hours to receive their prescription. During his trial, Smithers testified that he never really advertised and received many of his patients by word of mouth.

Smithers was convicted of more than 800 federal drug charges in May of 2019 and has been sentenced to 40 years in prison. Many of the charges were related to unlawfully distributing controlled substances beyond the boundaries of medical practice without a legitimate medical purpose. Two of these counts contributed to the death of a woman from West Virginia. In addition to the prison sentence, Smithers has also been issued an $86,000 fine for his role in illegally prescribing addictive pharmaceuticals to anyone who was willing to pay for them.

Sadly, this sentencing will do nothing to reverse the extensive damage that Smithers has done to several communities. At the very least it will send a strong warning to other doctors about the consequences of ignoring their Hippocratic oath in order to intentionally over-prescribe narcotics for profit.




After overcoming her own addiction in 2012 Julie went on to become certified as an addiction counselor in order to help others achieve a life of recovery. She worked in the addiction field for 8 years and now uses both her personal and professional experiences with addiction as an influence for her writing.