Va. Physician Sentenced to Three Years in Opioid Case

FJ Thomas

Roanoke, VA ( – A recent study released from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health still shows a drastic increase in the rate of workers dying from opioid overdose even with all the efforts to curb the opioid epidemic. Even with the numerous sanctions against physicians who over-prescribe Schedule II medications, according to a recent press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Virginia even older physicians are not immune.

Seventy-year-old physician Verna Mae Lewis of Roanoke, Virginia, was sentenced to 36 months in prison for over-prescribing opioids. In addition to the prison time, Lewis was fined $10,000 and forfeited $500,000 in judgement for distributing and dispensing high doses of high dosages of morphine, oxycodone, and hydromorphone outside the realm of usual patient care. Overall, it’s estimated that Lewis profited $523,000 from her prescription practices.

Prosecutors contend that Lewis issued the prescriptions without appropriate medical examinations or supporting medical documentation in direct violation of the state’s medical guidelines as well as the FDA and CDC guidelines. Lewis would prescribe patients high doses of the medications even with clear indications of drug abuse and accidental overdoses.

Earlier this month in yet another case involving an older physician, 72-year-old family medicine physician Yee Chung Ho of Murrysville, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty to four counts of illegally dispensing and distributing Oxycodone, and one count of health care fraud. According to the case, in 2019 Dr. Ho prescribed the drugs for purposes other than appropriate medical treatment, and then filed fraudulent claims to Medicare.

Senior United States District Judge Nora Barry Fischer presided over the case, and scheduled Dr. Ho’s sentencing for February 4th of next year. Dr. Ho could face 20 years in prison, up to $1 million in fines for each count of distribution. The healthcare fraud charges could garner $250,000 in fines and a 10-year sentence.

In a time when providers are retiring early at record numbers, it’s not uncommon for providers involved in fraud and drug cases to be of retirement age. While in most of the press releases there’s no indication that prescription infractions have incurred for decades with these providers, it does raises the question of whether these are new behaviors occurring in old age, or are they just recently getting caught.