James Pierre, a 52-year-old doctor from Houston, Texas, was convicted on March 25 for illegally prescribing over one million pills of hydrocodone, an opioid pain medication.
“Pierre was convicted of one count of conspiracy to unlawfully distribute and dispense controlled substances and seven counts of unlawfully distributing and dispensing controlled substances,” the justice department said in a March 25 press release. “He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 27 and faces up to 20 years in prison for each count. A federal district court judge will determine the sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.”
Pierre made the unlawful prescriptions between June 2015 and July 2016 to hundreds of individuals posing as patients at the West Parker Medical Clinic, according to evidence and court documents presented during trial.
The physician, along with his assistant, issued prescriptions for hydrocodone and carisoprodol, a combination of controlled substances dubbed the “Las Vegas Cocktail.” The individuals posing as patients were brought to the clinic by a group of people, known as runners, who paid around $220 to $500 per visit in cash.
West Parker clinic made around $1.75 million from prescriptions through the scheme, of which $300,000 went to Pierre. One co-conspirator pleaded guilty to conspiracy to unlawfully distribute controlled substances. The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) of Houston.
Pierre’s case is not an isolated one. A pharmacy owner, 32-year-old Clint Carr, was convicted on March 7 for distributing controlled substances and laundering money via his pharmacies in Texas.
Over a period of 18 months, Carr and his co-conspirators are said to have distributed more than 1.5 million units, including over 1.1 million pills of hydrocodone and oxycodone.
Carr was charged with several counts of unlawful activity, facing a maximum total penalty of up to 140 years in prison.
“Carr’s conviction is a reminder that the Department of Justice will hold accountable those who have helped fuel the country’s opioid epidemic,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said in a March 8 press release. “This includes pharmacy owners who have effectively poisoned our communities.”
The state of Texas is taking stringent action against opioids, with Governor Greg Abbott recently proposing harsher prosecution for people who hand out non-prescription fentanyl to individuals.
Some regions in Texas are seeing a big increase in opioid use and deaths. In places like Harris County, fentanyl kills someone every day. Deaths involving fentanyl rose by 341 percent between 2019 and 2021, according to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.
China is a major supplier of fentanyl to the United States. After Washington raised the issue, Beijing implemented laws to regulate fentanyl in 2018 and 2019. However, the Chinese suppliers soon changed tactics.
Instead of sending fentanyl directly to the United States, they began shipping it off to Mexican cartels who then deliver it across the border. Of the 104,288 Americans who lost their lives between October 2020 and September 2021 to drug overdose deaths, 78,388 were due to opioids.