East Tennessee doctors, medical professionals charged in multi-state opioid operation

Tennessee

Federal officials announced charges Wednesday against 60 people, 53 of whom are medical professionals, in a massive law enforcement action involving opioids across 11 federal districts in five states, including Tennessee.

U.S. attorneys from Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Alabama along with FBI, DEA and other officials discussed of the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force in a news conference in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The operation focuses mainly on medical professionals involved in the distribution of opioids and other prescription narcotics. The charges involve over 350,000 prescriptions for controlled substances and over 32 million pills. That’s the equivalent of a dose of opioids for every man, woman and child across the states of Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and West Virginia combined.

“Let me be clear. If so-called medical professionals behave like drug dealers, the Department of Justice is going to treat them like drug dealers,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski.

Officials say of the 60 people charged, eight of them are in East Tennessee. Five doctors, a nurse practitioner, a physician’s assistant and an office manager were charged in four cases. Two of the doctors were charged with health care fraud and three of the cases are related to alleged pill mill operations.

“Our district of East Tennessee like others in Appalachia and across the nation have been in this fight for a number of years,” said Doug Overbey, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee. 

“A case in Tennessee, where a nurse practitioner was charged for his allege it in a conspiracy to unlawfully dispense controlled substances including prescription opioids,” said Benczkowski. “The conspiracy is alleged to have involved upwards of 100 patients per day and also included prescribing opioids to pregnant women, cash payments for prescriptions, and the writing of over 10,000 prescriptions for controlled substances including nearly 1,000,000 opioid pills.”

The following people have been indicted in the East Tennessee district;

  • Dr. Charles Brooks, 61, of Maryville – Charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute Schedule III, IV, and V drugs as well as one count of health care fraud
  • Dr. Stephen Mynatt, 64, of Knoxville – Charged with conspiracy to distribute Schedule II controlled drugs and two counts of distribution of Schedule II drugs
  • Dr. David Newman, 58, of Maryville – Charged with conspiracy to distribute Schedule II drugs
  • Dr. Henry Babenco, 58, of Paducah, Kentucky – Charged with conspiracy to distribute Schedule II drugs and money laundering
  • Sharon Naylor, 53, of Jacksboro – Charged with conspiracy to distribute Schedule II drugs and money laundering
  • Alicia Taylor, 29, of Oneida – Charged with conspiracy to distribute Schedule II drugs
  • Gregory Madron, 54, of Jacksboro – Charged with conspiracy to distribute Schedule II drugs
  • Dr. Harrison Yang, 75, of Manchester – Charged with healthcare fraud violations

Mynatt and Newman were affiliated with East Tennessee Pain Specialists in South Knoxville, which was raided on March 4.

Babenco, Naylor, Taylor and Madron were all affiliated with LaFollette Wellness Center.

“The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history, and Appalachia has suffered the consequences more than perhaps any other region,” Attorney General William P. Barr said. “But the Department of Justice is doing its part to help end this crisis.”

“Today’s takedown represents the single largest prescription opioid law enforcement operation in history with the highest number of medical professionals ever charged by the department or prescription opioid-related crimes,” Benczkowski said. 

If you are seeking help in Tennessee: 

  • For a referral to addiction treatment services, call the Tennessee REDLINE: 800-889-9789.
  • In a mental health crisis, call the Statewide Crisis Line: 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471).

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