A former Richland doctor who admitted to signing blank prescription pads that were then used to supply clinic patients and addicts with painkillers and other drugs will spend four years in federal prison.
Janet Arnold, 64, pleaded guilty to distributing controlled substances at the Desert Wind Family Practice in Richland from August 2015 to May 2017, shortly before the Washington Medical Commission revoked her license to practice. The Drug Enforcement Administration used an undercover patient to determine Arnold was signing the blank prescription pads that were used to secure Oxycontin, fentanyl and other drugs as well as swapping medications with staff at the clinic, according to charging documents.
The sentence handed down by U.S. District Court Senior Judge Edward F. Shea on Wednesday split the difference between requests of probation by Arnold’s attorneys and prosecutors, who were seeking a nine-year sentence.
In requesting their sentence for Arnold, federal prosecutors argued she abused her position of authority and enabled addicts to continue their behavior.
“Doctors … have the distinct choice of placing these drugs in the hands of these sick individuals,” Assistant U.S. Attorney George C. Jacobs wrote in his sentence request. “Doctors must be sent a strong and clear message that hiding behind their prescription pads and blaming the addicts for this epidemic will not be tolerated.”
U.S. Attorney Vanessa Waldref repeated those concerns in a statement after the sentence was handed down.
“She was aware of the red flags of opioid drug diversion, ignored them in her practice, and continued to prescribe drugs in direct violation of her duty as a licensed doctor in Washington,” Waldref said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office noted that, during the two-year period when Arnold admitted writing phony prescriptions, more than 1,400 Washingtonians died of opioid overdoses in Washington state.
Arnold argued she’d been taken advantage of by workers in the clinic, who were trying to hide their drug-seeking behavior from her. That included Danielle Corine Mata, who pleaded guilty to the same charge and is identified in court documents as Arnold’s receptionist and office manager. Mata is scheduled to be sentenced in Richland next week.
Defense attorneys had asked for Arnold’s sentence to be five years of probation and include home confinement. She will not practice medicine again and had no criminal record, they argued.
“Dr. Arnold was not a full-fledged member of this conspiracy,” Paul Shelton, Arnold’s attorney, wrote. “There is a meaningful distinction between willful blindness and willful participation; Dr. Arnold is guilty of the former but not the latter.”
The Medical Commission revoked Arnold’s license after an investigation into her care for nearly two dozen patients over several years found it was inadequate, including by failing to keep proper records, check for substance addictions and create pain management plans to wean patients off of strong opioid medications.
Shea handed down the sentence in Richland after a sentencing hearing held Wednesday.
Another defendant named in the indictment, Jennifer Cheri Prichard, is scheduled to be sentenced at the end of May. David Barnes Nay was sentenced to 6½ years in federal prison after pleading guilty in August 2019, and Lisa Marie Cooper was scheduled to two years in prison after also pleading guilty to charges tied to the scheme, according to court records.
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