Federal agents recently executed a search warrant on the offices of a psychiatric physician with practices in Gulf Shores and Opelika. According to an affidavit in support of the search warrant unsealed this morning, Dr. James Henry Edwards, who previously practiced medicine in Montgomery and as recently as February 2017 at East Bay Psychiatry Practice in Fairhope, is suspected of prescribing large quantities of anti-anxiety and ADHD medications to patients without adequately assessing their needs or monitoring their cases.
Edwards’ medical practice, Analytic Options, initially opened in Montgomery in 2010 but in 2017 expanded to Opelika and to 229 E. 20th Ave. in Gulf Shores. The same year, he was also the subject of an investigation by the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners (ABME), which subpoenaed 12 patient files. An independent expert reviewer in the investigation concluded 11 of those patients were prescribed excessive doses of stimulants and further, documentation in all 12 files were inadequate or incomplete.
According to the affidavit, 10 of the 12 files indicated Edwards was “prescribing two medications from the same class of drugs to treat the same problem. Additionally … eight of the 12 patients received hazardously high dosages of medications.”
In January 2019, the ABME reached a settlement agreement with Edwards, who was able to deny a history of excessive prescriptions but also had to agree to certain limitations on his practice and follow standard protocols.
Allegedly, three months later, the ABME received a new complaint from the mother of one of Edwards’ patients in the Auburn area, whose son killed himself amid an addiction to Xanax “legally obtained by prescriptions from Dr. Edwards.” The affidavit claims the 29-year-old patient sought help from other physicians who questioned the high dosages of Xanax Edwards prescribed, but the patient continued to return to Edwards because of his addiction.
A special agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency also interviewed a pair of patients who were dating. Both were seeking treatment for anxiety and panic attacks and both told the agent Edwards prescribed them Xanax despite their disclosures of previous drug addictions or reservations against taking Xanax. Allegedly, after an initial 15-minute consultation, Edwards prescribed the female 60, 2-milligram Xanax tablets, instructed her to take one twice per day.
“She then proceeded to take 50 pills in three days,” the affidavit states, noting the patient overdosed and was hospitalized in the intensive care unit for three days. After she was released, she allegedly called Edwards to tell him about the overdose and also told the doctor that she would not be seeing him again.
“Soon after she got off the telephone with Edwards, [the patient] received a text message from the Publix pharmacy. The message said that her prescription for [Valium] was ready. Confused … the pharmacist told [the patient] Edwards had called in the prescription for her.”
In further support of the search warrant, the agent also interviewed several pharmacists in the Auburn and Gulf Shores areas who disclosed they had concerns with the excessive amounts of medications prescribed by Edwards. Further, the agent included many anonymous online reviews with alleged patients who claimed they had similar issues with Edwards’ practice.
According to court records, the search warrant on Edwards’ office was executed July 11. On July 17, a grand jury in the Middle District of Alabama found probable cause to indict Edwards with three counts of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance, but the affidavit suggests if his prescriptions were illegitimate and office visits were fraudulent, he may also be responsible for more than $2.5 million in Medicare or Medicaid reimbursements to pharmacies and more than $500,000 in Medicare or Medicaid reimbursements for services.
Edwards is the latest in a string of local physicians to be targeted by federal agents for running what are generally characterized as “pill mills.” Perhaps the largest case resulted in the 20- and 21-year imprisonment of former physicians John Patrick Couch and Xiulu Ruan, respectively, whose Mobile-based practice Physicians Pain Specialists of Alabama was accused of prescribing large quantities of opiates including fentanyl, oxymorphone, oxycodone, hydromorphone and morphine beyond the standard scope of treatment.
In 2017, they were found guilty of 19 federal charges ranging from conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, health care fraud, violating anti-kickback statutes and violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and in addition to their prison sentences, ordered to pay back millions in restitution and forfeit personal property including homes, condos and exotic cars.
In 2018, former neurologist Rassan M. Tarabein was sentenced to five years imprisonment after pleading guilty to one count of healthcare fraud and one count of unlawful distribution of a schedule II controlled substance. The former proprietor of Eastern Shore Neurology and Pain Center in Daphne, he was ordered to pay restitution totaling $15,010,682 to six different health care benefit programs, including Medicare and the Alabama Medicaid Agency.
Separately, Fairhope internist Dr. Richard Snellgrove was indicted on 13 criminal charges in October 2016 — two months after former Three Doors Down guitarist Matthew Roberts overdosed and died in a Wisconsin hotel after allegedly taking opioids prescribed by Snellgrove. But after a trial in May 2018, a jury acquitted him of all charges, with his attorney Dennis Knizley noting there “was a world of difference” between the allegations against Snellgrove and those against Ruan, who he also defended.
Lagniappe will update this story as it develops.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access. During the month of December, give (or get) a one year subscription with TWO months FREE.