KINGSTON (WATE) - A network of East Tennessee pain clinics are at the center of a federal indictment. The clinics and operators were based around Chattanooga, but the impact of the alleged drug ring stretched into Roane County as well.
The Roane County Sheriff's Office worked with federal authorities to make 23 arrests. The suspects are charged with taking part in drug trafficking and money laundering conspiracies.
Roane County Sheriff Jack Stockton says they were using pill mills to get the prescription drugs.
The sheriff calls prescription pill abuse an epidemic linked to most criminal activity. "It's the number one issue for the narcotics division and also for the patrol division. It is probably generating 90 percent or more of the crime in our community," he said.
But the sheriff says law enforcement is dedicated to catching people abusing prescription pills.
In fact, four people with four pain clinics in Chattanooga are charged with conspiring to illegally distribute and dispense controlled substances.
One of those who's charged is Dr. Jerome Arnold Sherard. The Tennessee Department of Health says despite the arrest, Sherard is still listed as the medical director of Skyview Medical Center in Seymour. The clinic remained open Thursday.
Sherard's office in Chattanooga was named on the indictment.
The Roane County Sheriff's Office arrested 23 people allegedly buying pills from the clinics listed on the indictment.
"They do a very limited check up and they'd get their prescriptions written and take them to a pharmacy and get them filled, sometimes 100 or 200 at a time per person," Sheriff Stockton.
He says one person would fund the pain clinic visits, buying all the pills prescribed and then selling them to street dealers.
Sheriff Stockton says the addictive qualities and easy accessibility of pain pills make the drugs more dangerous, and people of all ages are affected.
It's something Gloria Miller has seen first hand. She's lived in Roane County almost her entire life and says some of her friends have abused prescription drugs. She says they were addicted or using them for their own benefit by self-medicating or selling the pills.
"It can destroy families," Miller said. "It does destroy families."
Sheriff Stockton says if they're found guilty, some of the people in the case could face up to life in prison and $1 million in fines.
The medical director of the Seymour pain clinic, Dr. Jerome Sherard, has pleaded not guilty to the drug charges. His trial is set for November 5 in Chattanooga. At this time, he's prohibited from writing prescriptions for controlled substances.
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