CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A former doctor will spend six months behind bars after a federal judge concluded Tuesday that she aided the flood of prescription pain pills in southern West Virginia, a region that ranks among the worst in the nation for drug overdose deaths.
U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. rejected a request for probation from the defense lawyer for Diane Shafer, saying the punishment fell within sentencing guidelines and would serve as a deterrent to such conduct.
Defense lawyer Dwane Tinsley had asked the judge to allow Shafer to remain at her Mingo County home, where she cares for her frail 81-year-old mother. Tinsley also cited the letter in which Shafer expressed "true remorse" for her crime.
"I'm sorry from the bottom of my heart," Shafer told Copenhaver during the hearing, her voice trembling. "My heart is broken and my spirit is crushed. I am sorry about this."
Copenhaver said Shafer was West Virginia's 10th most-prolific prescriber of controlled substances during the time period scrutinized by prosecutors, surpassing a number of hospitals in the process. Prosecutors say the 60-year-old Shafter left signed prescription slips at her Williamson office for staff to hand out in her absence. They counted more than 118,000 prescriptions for pain and anti-anxiety drugs issued in her name between 2003 and early 2010.
Shafer pleaded guilty to conspiring to misuse a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration registration number. But Tinsley said the crime occurred as Shafer worked long hours as the sole orthopedic surgeon in a 10-county area. Shafer hired staff "off the street" and with little training as she sought to serve a region with sparse health care coverage, Tinsley told the judge.
"In retrospect, your honor, she should have been more responsible in the way she ran her medical practice," Tinsley said. He added, "She was more concerned about her patients than the running of her office."