Even with COVID-19 creating a pandemic over the past 15 months, the Allegiant Experts Blog has never taken focus away from another crisis in our country. Opioids continue to cause overdoses and death all over the nation. Our blog has not only highlighted this truth on many occasions, but has also reported on the charges and convictions that have resulted from the crisis.
Add 63 year-old, Thomas K. Ballard III to the list of physicians who are guilty of worsening the opioid crisis. As reported by the Western District of Tennessee branch of the United States Department of Justice, the Jackson-based doctor has pleaded guilty to hydrocodone distribution resulting in death.
Hydrocodone is an opioid used to treat severe pain.
Sold under such brand names as Zohydro ER, hydrocodone is generally prescribed to those who are enduring prolonged pain. It is often used as a last resort due to other medications not being sufficient. Hydrocodone, which is taken orally, can also be used as a cough suppressant in adults. Ballard prescribed the drug to a patient illegally. It resulted in that patient’s death.
According to court documents, Ballard owned and operated the Ballard Clinic. From his clinic, he issued prescriptions for dangerous, addictive controlled pharmaceutical drugs without any legitimate medical purpose. His actions, however, were far more sinister than just the illegal prescription of opioids. The DoJ reports that Ballard also engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with several female patients.
Ballard ignored red flags that his patients were abusing the medications he prescribed.
“These abuses were often reflected in Ballard’s own medical records,” says the report, “Ballard’s treatment records reflected that he believed that a particular patient had psychiatric issues, and that she was abusing her medication, fabricating personal trauma and tampering with drug screens. The records also reflected aberrant drug screens and notations about the patient’s incarceration and receipt of prescriptions elsewhere for suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid dependency disorder.”
Nevertheless, Ballard prescribed the patient hydrocodone repeatedly. This included an instance on May 28, 2015. On that date, Ballard issued the patient the prescription for hydrocodone on which she fatally overdosed.
Nicholas L. McQuaid is the Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. He had this to say about Ballard’s guilty plea: “Above all, physicians are trusted not to harm their patients. When opioid addictions are fueled at the hands of predatory prescribers, death is all too often the result. The Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal to hold such prescribers accountable.”
Ballard faces a minimum of 20 years in prison.
Ballard is scheduled for sentencing on September 21. Because he pleaded guilty to a count of illegal drug distribution resulting in death, the statutory mandatory minimum sentence is 20 years. That is, if the court accepts his plea agreement. “A federal district court judge will determine any non-incarceration aspect of Ballard’s sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors,” says the DoJ report.
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