According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly 50,000 people in the United States died from opioid-involved overdoses in 2019. Make no mistake about it. The opioid crisis in our country is a horrifying epidemic. Opioids, which include opium, heroin, morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone among other drugs, are well known to cause overdoses leading to death. Needless to say, medical practitioners who illegally distribute opioids are major parts of the problem.
63 year-old, Thomas K. Ballard III certainly hasn’t helped matters. As the United States Department of Justice reports this week, the medical doctor unlawfully prescribed opioids that caused the death of one of his patients. Ballard now faces 20 years in prison because of his actions.
Ballard owned and operated the Ballard Clinic.
It was there where he prescribed controlled substances outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose. As mentioned, Ballard’s unlawful prescribing to one patient led to her death. His treatment records showed that he believed the patient had psychiatric issues. Overusing medication, engaging in manipulation and fabricating personal trauma were listed as actions taken by this patient.
Ballard’s records also noted that the patient had been incarcerated and received prescriptions elsewhere for Suboxone. Suboxone is a drug typically used to treat opioid dependency disorder. “Among other things, Ballard engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with several female patients while he ignored red flags that they were abusing the medications he prescribed,” details the DoJ report, “These abuses were often reflected in Ballard’s own medical records.”
Ballard’s patient had abnormal drug testing results.
His records show that he assumed tampering was involved. Even so, he repeatedly prescribed the patient hydrocodone. Hydrocodone is often sold under the brand name, Zohydro ER. It is an opioid used as a last resort to treat severe and long-standing pain. Dizziness, sleepiness, nausea and constipation are among its milder side effects. Low blood pressure, seizures and respiratory depression are among its more serious side effects. Sadly, hydrocodone is also known to be highly addictive. When abused, the result is often death.
On May 29, 2015, Ballard’s patient overdosed on the hydrocodone he prescribed and died. On June 23, 2021, Ballard pleaded guilty to one count of illegal drug distribution resulting in death.
Doctors acting as drug dealers must be held accountable.
“Loss of life is a tragic outcome of physicians like Ballard acting as drug dealers instead of doctors,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division in the DoJ report, “Those responsible for fatal overdoses – especially those who are in positions of trust like Ballard – must be held accountable for their roles in the opioid epidemic. This serious criminal conduct requires serious consequences.”
Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) offered the following: “Physicians are entrusted to care for patients and prescribe medically necessary medications. The death of a vulnerable woman exemplifies the devastating impact of Ballard’s disregard for his patients and profession.”
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