A West Virginia physician has been sentenced to a year and a day in jail after pleading guilty to seven felonies for illegal distribution of oxycodone.
West Virginia has one of the highest rates of drug overdose deaths in the country, with 627 deaths in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 437 West Virginians died from prescription opioid overdose in 2014.
The sentence, along with an $18,200 penalty, was handed down in the US District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia on June 28. The physician, Tressie M. Duffy, MD, practiced at West Virginia Weight and Wellness Inc, a family medicine clinic in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
The physician was facing up to 20 years for each count, plus a fine of up to $1 million for each count.
Dr Duffy, 46, has a history of scrapes with the law going back to at least 2009. She also had been censured three times by the West Virginia Board of Medicine. That was before she pled guilty in December 2015 — the result of a US Attorney's Office investigation. A 100-count indictment issued in 2014 charged Dr Duffy and two coworkers with illegally issuing 157 prescriptions for oxycodone, oxymorphone, methadone, and methylphenidate between 2010 and 2012.
The plea agreement required Dr Duffy to give up her West Virginia license and promise not to apply for a new license in any other state.
Blank Prescription Pad
According to the 2014 indictment, Dr Duffy left signed, blank prescription forms for coworkers to issue narcotics — without her ever seeing a patient.
During the periods she left the prescription pads, she was variously recovering from surgery; attending a medical conference in South Carolina; attending a meeting of the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry; attending a medical conference in Las Vegas; on two different trips to Washington, DC; and on a trip to Breckinridge, Colorado.
A lab technician, named as a co-conspirator, decided which patients should receive narcotics in Dr Duffy's absence, and an office assistant, also named as a co-conspirator, issued the prescriptions — to 96 patients, according to the indictment.
A little more than a year after the indictment, Dr Duffy agreed to plead guilty to seven counts of distributing oxycodone.
It is not clear whether Dr Duffy offered any mitigating circumstances to explain her behavior. Dr Duffy's Charleston, West Virginia-based attorneys did not return phone calls or emails requesting comment.
Dr Duffy had been on the West Virginia Board of Medicine's radar screen for years.
In July 2009, the board initiated a complaint against Dr Duffy, saying that she had fraudulently prescribed and dispensed a prescription, that she committed insurance fraud, and that she had self-prescribed the medication for a use outside of accepted practice, according to a 2010 consent order.
The board did not name the medication, but an account in the Martinsburg Journal News at the time alleged that Dr Duffy was involved in an extramarital affair with another physician and that both had falsely obtained methotrexate for the purposes of an abortion for Dr Duffy.
Later in 2009, Dr Duffy ended up pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of insurance fraud in the Magistrate Court of Berkeley County, West Virginia.
After that plea, Dr Duffy went before the board, saying that extraordinary circumstances in her personal life led to the poor decision-making, according to a consent order she entered into in February 2010. In exchange for not losing her license, Dr Duffy agreed to undergo psychological counseling for 18 months with a therapist approved by the board.
But Dr Duffy never went to the counseling. The board filed another complaint in August 2010, this time extracting a promise to pay a $1000 fine and to go to counseling, in exchange for not pulling her license. She agreed to that in March 2011.
Her license expired in June 2012 — because she failed to complete the renewal application in time. The board allowed a 2-year renewal, contingent on Dr Duffy's continuing therapy through the end of November 2012.
The board did not take action again until July 2014 — a year after both board officials and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had visited the Weight and Wellness offices, finding evidence of malfeasance.
In the meantime, a complaint was filed with the board by a female employee of Weight and Wellness, who alleged that Dr Duffy forced her to "motorboat" her new surgically augmented breasts — that is, move her face back and forth between them, making a noise like a boat engine. The complaint also said that Dr Duffy had repeatedly exposed her breasts to patients and coworkers and also forcibly kissed the female complainant.
The board served Dr Duffy with a notice alleging professional misconduct and set a public hearing date for November 2014. Before that hearing, Dr Duffy was served with the indictment.
Ultimately, the board issued its final censure in January 2016, revoking her license.
Dr Duffy's husband, Cameron D. Duffy, MD, who also practices at West Virginia Weight and Wellness, was not targeted, but he did get caught up in the dragnet surrounding his wife.
The DEA and board agents in their 2013 visit found signed prescriptions in Cameron Duffy's safe. "I erroneously signed five prescriptions for my staff to have in the event a patient needed a CT scan or MRI, or some sort of order," Dr Cameron Duffy told Medscape Medical News.
His wife was served with a subpoena at that time, but he says he was not involved in any illegal prescribing.
The West Virginia Board and the Maryland Board of Physicians both reprimanded Dr Cameron Duffy. He said that he completed the requirements of his consent order in February 2015 and is still practicing at Weight and Wellness in Martinsburg.
"I'm still moving forward with trying to combat the epidemic of opioid abuse," he said.
Dr Duffy also just took a part-time position as the health officer of the Berkeley County (West Virginia) Health Department.
He would not comment on his wife's activities but said he would be able to discuss them at length in the near future.
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