South Hill doctor who overprescribed painkillers sentenced to 11 years

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Oliver W. Herndon asked on Monday for a few months to sort out his affairs before reporting to prison, but in the end U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab concluded that the Stanford-educated physician was just a drug dealer, and the law demanded that he be locked up right away.

"The court believes it has no discretion in this matter," Judge Schwab told Herndon. The doctor committed "a long series of criminal acts ... affecting many peoples' lives." The judge then ordered federal marshals to take the 40-year-old doctor away to start an 11-year, three-month sentence.

Herndon, 40, of McMurray, improperly prescribed some 14,400 tablets of the powerful narcotics oxycodone and oxymorphone, prompting 87 pharmacies to stop filling his scripts, according to prosecutors. He pleaded guilty in May to distributing those drugs without medical purpose and to healthcare fraud.

He told the judge that he was "a good person" who became an internist to help people, but then strayed.

"I hurt many people in the community, I hurt my family, I hurt myself," he said. "If I am allowed to get my medical license again in the future, I would like to work with underserved populations," and if not licensed again he might seek work in a coroner's office, he said.

"His actions fed addictions and put oxycodone pills on the streets of our communities," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Kaufman at the sentencing hearing. "Prescription drug abuse is now eclipsing heroin or cocaine abuse in this country as the major drug problem we have."

The prosecution coincides with a campaign by David Hickton, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, to combat abuse of prescription drugs, and the region's federal prosecutor used the sentencing to send a message.

"We continue to make addressing the problem of prescription drug abuse one of our highest priorities by targeting the illegal supply chain at every level, from legitimate medical providers to illegal traffickers," Mr. Hickton said. "Western Pennsylvania law enforcement is committed to identifying, investigating and vigorously prosecuting these criminals who prey upon the addicted and threaten the safety of our communities."

Drug Enforcement Administration agents who went to Herndon undercover were able to get prescriptions for narcotics within minutes, without any physical examination. The FBI and DEA searched Herndon's office in Peters in February, shortly after he relocated from West Mifflin, and an indictment quickly followed.

The sentence was negotiated between prosecutors and Herndon's attorney. In addition to prison time, he must pay insurance arms of UPMC and Highmark a total of $700,000 in restitution for the unnecessary prescriptions they covered.

neigh_south

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542. First Published September 24, 2012 9:15 AM


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