“Rock Doc” Opioid Conviction Reaffirms DOJ Prioritization & Frequent Success of Illegal Opioid Distribution Enforcement

A Jackson, Tennessee nurse practitioner known in his community as the “Rock Doc” faces potentially decades of imprisonment following his federal conviction of for illegally prescribing oxycodone, fentanyl and other opioids in a “party-like atmosphere” from his medical practice by a federal jury last week. The conviction highlights the success the Justice Department continues to achieve in its efforts to investigate and prosecute health care and other individuals involved in the illegal distribution of opioids and other controlled substances.

Rock Doc Conviction

The prosecution and conviction of “Rock Doc” Jeffrery Young arose from an investigation conducted by the Department of Justice lead Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid (ARPO) Strike Force. Based on evidence developed from the joint investigation, the Justice Department charged nurse practitioner Jeffrey Young with using his medical practice, Preventagenix, to illegally prescribe more than one million medically unnecessary controlled substance pills to hundreds of patients, including a pregnant woman and women with whom he was having inappropriate physical relationships. According to court documents, Young maintained a party-like atmosphere at his clinic, and prescribed these drugs at least in part to boost his popularity on social media and promote a self-produced reality TV show pilot based on his self-identified persona, the “Rock Doc.”

After hearing the evidence presented at trial, the federal jury convicted Young of conspiracy to unlawfully distribute controlled substances, maintaining a drug-involved premises, and 13 counts of distributing controlled substances, six of which involved distribution to a pregnant woman.

Scheduled to be sentenced in federal district court on August 3, 2023, Young faces a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison for each count involving distribution to a pregnant woman and 20 years in prison for each of the other counts of conviction. A federal district court judge will decide his actual sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

While Rock Doc’s self-promotional activities may have helped draw attention to his activities, the Justice Department’s opioid enforcement priorities extend beyond media-seeking promoters. In fact, Young’s prosecution and conviction are only one of a multitude of federal prosecutions and convictions achieved by the ARPO since its inception in late 2018 as part of a nationwide fraud and opioid enforcement initiative sponsored by the Justice Department, ARPO has partnered with federal and state law enforcement agencies and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices throughout Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, Tennessee, and West Virginia to prosecute medical professionals and others involved in the illegal prescription and distribution of opioids. Over the past four years, ARPO has charged over 115 defendants, collectively responsible for issuing prescriptions for over 115 million controlled substance dosage units. To date, more than 70 ARPO defendants have been convicted.

DOJ’s Zealous Opioid Enforcement Priorities

Based on the success of the ARPO efforts, the Justice Department Criminal Division announced the formation of the New England Prescription Opioid (NEPO) Strike Force, a joint law enforcement effort to identify and investigate health care fraud schemes in the New England region and to effectively and efficiently prosecute individuals involved in the illegal distribution of prescription opioids and other prescribed controlled substances by partnering with federal and state law enforcement agencies in that region along the lines achieved in the ARPO.  The Justice Department’s aggressive efforts to investigate and prosecute the illegal distribution of opioids and other controlled substances in these regions and across the country have produced a multitude of other federal and state indictments, prosecutions and convictions for illegal distribution of controlled substances and health care fraud. Justice Department enforcement reports confirm it is continuing to make the illegal prescription and distribution of opioids and other controlled substances a priority in 2023. See, e.g., Pharmacist Convicted for $1M Prescription Drug Fraud (February 9, 2023); Nine Arrested for Illegally Distributing 1.5 Million Opioid Pills (February 2, 2023); Doctor Sentenced for Role in Illegally Distributing 6.6 Million Opioid Pills and Submitting $250 Million in False Billings (January 30, 2023); Former Doctor Convicted of Illegal Distribution of Controlled Substances (January 11, 2023).

An example of these additional enforcement actions is the February 2023 arrest of nine individuals in Houston, Texas on charges relating to their alleged involvement in the unlawful distribution of 1.5 million opioid pills and other controlled substances by operating pill mill pharmacies as fronts to obtain opioids in their highest-strength and immediate-release pill form, then allegedly selling the drugs on the black market without the involvement of patients, prescriptions, or doctors to drug traffickers. The Justice Department also charges Lyons and Turner allegedly concealed the drug proceeds using numerous bank accounts and real estate transactions and that Lyons used some of the proceeds to purchase luxury items, including a Rolls Royce, a Ford F-250, and a Mercedes Maybach.

Meanwhile, court documents also claim that starting around December 2020, Dwain Ross and Delores Mackey-Ross, along with licensed pharmacist Ann Nguyen allegedly used pharmacies to illegally distribute and dispense nearly half a million pills of oxycodone and hydrocodone. The Justice Department alleges Dwain Ross and Mackey-Ross, along with David Ross, Kevin Peterson, and Eleanor Marsh also allegedly illegally ordered the opioid potentiators alprazolam, carisoprodol, promethazine with codeine – which are reported to enhance the high from opioids – from a pharmaceutical wholesaler and a pharmaceutical sales representative then allegedly illegally distributed the opioid potentiators in bulk. The Justice Department alleges Dwain Ross and Mackey-Ross also used numerous bank accounts and real estate transactions to conceal their ill-gotten gains and that Dwain Ross used some of the drug proceeds to purchase a Lamborghini.

The pharmacies alleged in the indictments to have been controlled by the defendants’ drug trafficking organizations are K Med Pharmacy, Nex Gen Pharmacy, TX United Pharmacy, Power Center Pharmacy #2, DR Pharmacy, and Nu Care Pharmacy. Several other pharmacies, including P&A Pharmacy and Pearland Holistic Pharmacy, voluntarily surrendered their DEA Registration numbers, which a pharmacy needs to legally purchase pharmaceutical opioids and other controlled substances.

Lyons, Turner, Alfred, Dwain Ross, Mackey-Ross, and Nguyen are each charged with illegal distribution of Schedule II opioids. Dwain Ross, Mackey-Ross, David Ross, Peterson, and Marsh are each charged with the illegal distribution of Schedule IV drugs. Lyons, Turner, Dwain Ross, and Mackey-Ross are also charged with money laundering crimes.  If convicted, Lyons, Turner, Alfred, Dwain Ross, Mackey-Ross, and Nguyen face up to 20 years on the top counts. David Ross and Peterson each face up to five years. Marsh faces up to 10 years if convicted. Court documents allege that over 15 bank accounts, four real properties, and several luxury vehicles – including a Rolls Royce, a Bentley, and a Lamborghini – were involved in, or acquired with proceeds from, the scheme, and are subject to forfeiture if the defendants are convicted. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Together, the Young prosecution and conviction and other Justice Department enforcement actions send a clear warning against engaging in the illegal distribution of opioids and other controlled substances. Given these priorities and their success, all pharmacies and health care organizations should use care to maintain and administer carefully appropriate controlled substance controls to mitigate their risk of liability for potential abuses within their organization that could trigger Federal Sentencing Guideline or other organizational or individual liability.

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.  

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About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely-known for 35 plus years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, Chair of the American Bar Association (“ABA”) International Section Life Sciences and Health Committee, Chair-Elect of the ABA TIPS Section Medicine & Law Committee, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with HHS-OCR, past chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Ms. Stamer is most widely recognized for her decades of pragmatic, leading-edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on health and managed care and employer benefits legal, public policy and operational concerns in the healthcare, employer benefits, and insurance and financial services industries. She speaks and publishes extensively on HIPAA and other related compliance issues.

Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns.

For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here

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