FORT SMITH, Ark. (KFSM) — One of two River Valley doctors accused of running a “pill mill” has pleaded guilty to a federal charge of distributing a controlled substance.
Dr. Donald E. Hinderliter pleaded guilty Tuesday (Sept. 10) in U.S. District Court. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency have accused Dr. Hinderliter and Dr. Cecil W. Gaby of prescribing an excessive amount of opioids to patients regardless of their prognosis or need, according to court documents.
Between January 2016 and November 2018, investigators also said Hinderliter prescribed opioids to people he knew suffered from addiction, traveled from across the state to see him and had a history of diverting opioids.
Some patients later fatally overdosed on the drugs.
“Opiate abuse is a problem, not only in Arkansas but across the nation,” said Debbie Webber, a spokeswoman for the DEA.
“(The DEA) is committed to investigating and bringing to justice those who divert prescription drugs.”
The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment until after sentencing.
Local pharmacists and former patients also raised several alarming issues regarding the doctors and their practices, Hinderliter Pain Clinic in Barling, and Gaby Pain Clinic in Fort Smith, including:
- Hinderliter prescribed 1,803 pills per patient over two years with an average MME of 136
- Gaby prescribed 3,332 pills per patient over two years with an average MME of 108
- Local pharmacists noted Gaby and Hinderliter often wrote combination prescriptions for narcotics and patients had the same doses and medications regardless of their treatment
- A former patient said Gaby “runs a pill mill … a person can obtain any amount of pharmaceutical narcotics. This is known to everyone in the pill world.”
- Gaby and Hinderliter appear on Walmart pharmacies’ “Do Not Fill List”
Morphine milligram equivalents, or MME, are assigned to measure a drug’s potency. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say dosages at or above 50 MME can double the risk of overdoses.
Gaby, who hasn’t been arrested or charged, had his medical license suspended in November 2018.
The Arkansas State Medical Board voted in December 2018 to uphold its emergency suspension order against Gaby, according to board minutes.
Hinderliter forfeited his state medical license as part of his plea agreement.
He’s free on a $5,000 bond.