WHITESBURG – Twelve Letcher County residents accused of using phony medical records to obtain thousands of prescription pills through Internet pharmacies were sought Tuesday, February 27, by Operation UNITE’s special Diversion Unit.
“Roughly one of every two overnight packages delivered in Whitesburg, Kentucky, are these pill mailings from out-of-state pharmacies,” said Steve Whalen, postal inspector for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Lexington, which covers all of Eastern Kentucky. “When you get out of Whitesburg proper it’s an even greater percentage.”
Whalen estimated there are “more than a handful (of packages) delivered most every day.”
With every delivery from an Internet pharmacy containing an average of 120 Hydrocodone pills or 90 Alprazolam pills, UNITE Law Enforcement Director Dan Smoot noted roughly 50,000 pills are being shipped to Whitesburg alone over the course of a year.
“One of the people we arrested today stated it was easier to purchase drugs through an Internet pharmacy than it was from a drug dealer,” Smoot added.
All of the pills shipped to suspects wanted in Tuesday’s roundup came from United Prescription Services in Tampa, Florida. The pharmacy is registered in the state through the KASPER (Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting) system, police said, noting the pharmacy was cooperating with the investigation.
“These 12 represent just a small portion of illegal Internet sales in Letcher County,” Smoot said. “The Diversion Unit has identified numerous other individuals who are suspected of buying pills illegally. We will be working in conjunction with Letcher County Attorney Harold Bolling to investigate and prosecute these cases.”
According to UNITE’s Diversion Unit, the investigation began about one month ago when a doctor from Whitesburg ARH Hospital called to say he had received a falsified report. Although the doctor’s name on the report was authentic, the person had not been seen as a patient.
An investigation “opened the door” to numerous other incidents where falsified documents – including forged MRI exam reports -- and forged prescriptions were being used to justify Internet purchases of controlled medications.
UNITE enlisted the help of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to track down shipments.
“We used delivery records from targeted post offices to identify who was receiving packages containing drugs,” Whalen said. “It is a major problem. Because of the sheer number of mailings, we’re just taking it one community at a time.”
Whalen noted his office was “hamstrung” to take action against Interstate pharmacies because of a lack of federal laws prohibiting the selling or shipping of drugs. Enforcement is currently provided through enforcement of state and local regulatory statutes.
Requiring out-of-state pharmacies to register with KASPER, the result of Senate Bill 63 enacted by the 2005 General Assembly, provided a much-needed enforcement tool. The 2007 General Assembly is currently considering legislation (Senate Bill 88) to require face-to-face consultations with a doctor before prescriptions could be purchased on the Internet.
Assisting UNITE Diversion detectives with the round-up were members of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Whitesburg Police Department, Fleming-Neon Police Department, Letcher County Sheriff’s Office, and Kentucky State Police.
As of 2 p.m. Tuesday five of the 12 people sought had been arrested. They are:
• Shawn Kiser, age 23, Loves Branch Road, Deane, one count third-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and 15 counts obtaining a prescription for a controlled substance by fraud.
• Geder Martin, age 24, Kiona Drive, Isom, one count each criminal possession of a forged instrument and unlawful procurement of a prescription.
• Malinda Mason, age 27, Highway 2035, Whitesburg, one count criminal possession of a forged instrument and seven counts obtaining a prescription for a controlled substance by fraud.
• Michael Shepherd, age 31, Gap Branch Road, Millstone, one count first-degree unauthorized procurement of a controlled substance.
• Robert Wagner, age 24, Great Oak Road, Mayking, one count each third-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and first-degree unlawful procurement of a controlled substance.
All suspects were lodged at the Letcher County Jail.
For more information about Operation UNITE visit their website at www.operationunite.org.