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Doctor faces 20 years in prison for opioid prescriptions

A Virginia doctor faces up to 20 years in a federal prison for prescribing powerful medications including Xanax, oxycodone and Adderall to individuals who had no medical need to take the drugs. The 49-year-old Fairfax resident pleaded guilty on March 4 to six counts of illegally distributing controlled substances after entering into a negotiated plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. He is scheduled to be sentenced in May.

During the investigation into the doctor's activities, undercover officers posing as patients allegedly obtained prescriptions for Adderall. The officers say that the doctor did not physically examine them and asked no medical questions. The doctor is also said to have agreed to write prescriptions for extra Adderall for a friend of one of the officers. U.S. attorneys say the doctor also ignored a warning issued by the Food and Drug Administration in 2016 about the overdose risks of prescribing patients both benzodiazepines and opioids.

According to court papers, one patient died of an opioid overdose after taking oxycodone and Xanax prescribed by the doctor. The doctor allegedly continued to write the prescriptions even after being told several times about the patient's problems with heroin addiction. The doctor is accused of writing about 15,000 controlled substance prescriptions to approximately 1,000 patients over a period of 21 months.

Cases like this one are usually settled at the negotiating table because the penalties for committing federal drug crimes are severe and U.S. attorneys rarely take action until they have amassed overwhelming evidence. During plea negotiations, experienced criminal defense attorneys could seek a more lenient sentence by reminding federal prosecutors about the risks of arguing before a jury and mentioning mitigating factors that paint their clients in a more favorable light. Some that could sway a prosecutor include genuine remorse, previous good conduct, gainful employment, and a support network of family and friends.

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