Five years ago, as Kentucky’s pain management industry galloped, Ernest William Singleton held more than one set of reins in his hands.
Singleton, now 47, ran Central Kentucky Bariatric and Pain Management clinic in Georgetown and the Grant County Wellness Center in Dry Ridge. The first clinic opened its doors in late 2010. An ex-Marine and a nurse by profession, he oversaw all the daily operations of the clinics. He also owned a pharmacy and an MRI business.
“The most money I made in one day was $4.2 million, give or take,” Singleton said in an interview with the Post-Gazette from the Federal Correctional Institution Elkton, in Ohio.
Bank records from 2011 and 2012 showed that Singleton deposited over $2 million in the bank accounts for the Georgetown and Dry Ridge Clinics. Eventually, drug proceeds allowed Singleton to buy a house in Willisburg, Ky., expensive farm equipment, two tractors, a Dodge truck, and a Marine Tahoe boat.
His profits mounted because his clinics had a constant flow of patients. Many of them sought prescriptions for narcotic painkillers, forcing clinics staff to often book two and three patients for the same appointment slot, according to testimony at Singleton’s federal trial in 2013.
Little medical examination was provided to the patients, who often were waiting for the doctor on the floor of the clinics’ waiting rooms or outside on the street curb. One doctor testified he saw approximately 92 patients in a single day. They paid $300 in cash for an initial appointment and $250 for return visits.
Alan Godofsky, a physician who worked at the Georgetown clinic in 2011-12, testified that it was “so busy the doctors can’t put in full notes and do the appropriate research.”
Investigators said Singleton influenced doctors to see as many patients as possible. According to court documents, Singleton used to tell Dr. Godofsky: “If you don’t give [the patients] what they want, they won’t come back.” As a result, Dr. Godofsky wrote 6,000 prescriptions for over 500,000 Oxycodone doses in under one year.
Between December 2010 and March 2012, Singleton’s physicians prescribed over 2.5 million doses of oxycodone, as well as the sedative diazepam to treat anxiety disorders, and Ultram, an addictive pain reliever drug, according to an appeals court decision.
Another physician, Lea Ann Marlow, testified that there was no way she could do a complete exam if they were going to see all the people that had been scheduled for the day. “I was to fill those prescriptions, I was to see those patients, and I was not to take time,” she said.
Singleton brushed off the accusations. He cited several doctors’ testimony that “I told them to treat the patient the way they needed to be treated,” adding that each doctor was out of the office by 5 or 6 p.m. every day.
Singleton said his clinics were “10 times stricter than any other clinic in the state,” and cooperated with law enforcement to stop doctor shopping -- patients getting medicine from more than one doctor.
“When [the patients] were doctor shopping they got turned over to police,” Singleton said. “I had over 10,000 [patients] – were some of those seeking drugs? Yes, they were and I got rid of them.” The clinics discharged around 48 percent of their patients -- higher than the national average, one of the doctors testified.
After Kentucky’s legislature passed prescribing reforms in April 2012, both of Singleton’s clinics were closed within a couple of months. The legislature specifically targeted business owners, who aren’t doctors: they no longer could own nor have investment interest in pain management facility.
Singleton was arrested in January 2013. In 2014 a jury found him guilty of distribution of oxycodone, conspiracy, maintaining a drug-involved premises and money laundering. A judge imposed a 20-year federal prison sentence.
He recently filed a criminal complaint with the Office of Professional Responsibility Department of Justice in Washington D.C. as well as a lawsuit against the Kentucky State Police. “I’m sitting in prison for 20 years for something I didn’t do,” Singleton said.
Olena Goncharova: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1590
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