The farthest state from Florida, in the continental United States, is Alaska. On the map, it is the state that is the farthest north, east and west. Nonetheless, what happens in Alaska can still have an impact on the rest of the nation. As we have long spotlighted in our blog, America’s opioid crisis is both terrifying and far-reaching. Alaska is proving that.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 106,000 people in the U.S. died from drug-involved overdoses in 2021. They included illicit drugs and prescription opioids. People like Joyce Spayd of Alaska are to blame for such widespread deaths. As reported by the District of Alaska branch of the U.S. Attorney's Office last Friday, Spayd received a 30-year prison sentence for illegally prescribing and dispensing opioids.
Spayd’s prescriptions resulted in five deaths between 2014 and 2019.
As the report informs, Spayd illegally prescribed and dispensed opioids outside the scope of legitimate medical practice. Her actions resulted in the deaths of five people between 2014 and 2019. The 52 year-old was convicted on October 27, 2022 of ten crimes. They included five counts of illegal drug distribution that resulted in death and one count of maintaining a drug involved premises. Spayd was also ordered to forfeit $117,000 in unlawful proceeds.
No less than 51 witnesses were presented during Spayd’s four-week trial. “Government witnesses included pharmacists who refused to fill prescriptions from Spayd, law enforcement agents and officers who investigated the deaths, Spayd’s employees, individuals who received pills from Spayd, medical experts, every Medical Examiner in Alaska (each of whom performed autopsies on different overdose victims), and family members of the victims,” the report details.
Spayd prescribed and dispensed 4.5 million dosages of opioids in just over five years.
According to evidence presented at trial, those drugs included fentanyl, methadone, oxycodone and hydromorphone. In numerous instances, Spayd combined those prescriptions with prescriptions for other dangerous drugs like valium and muscle relaxers. This was known as the “holy trinity”. Together, the drugs significantly increased the chances of overdose death.
Spayd wrote her prescriptions with little to no medical justification or treatment plan. As well, there were minimal, if any, tests or physical examinations performed. She also considered little, if any, considerations of non-opioid treatment. “Many of her patients were vulnerable and suffering from chronic pain, addiction, and mental illness, yet Spayd disregarded their medical histories, risk factors, past overdoses, symptoms, and pleas to reduce or taper their doses,” the report reads.
Spayd also ignored warnings from patients’ family members, pharmacists and medical providers.
In fact, the former advanced nurse practitioner defied thousands of warning letters that were sent by insurance companies about the dangers of her practices. United States District Judge Joshua M. Kindred presided over the case and handed down Spayd's sentence. He remarked that “when [practitioners] fail in their responsibilities, [they] can do far greater harm than the drug dealer on the street corner.” Kindred also said that Spayd “knew she was in effect killing people, and she just kept doing it.”
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