TEXARKANA — Dr. Lonnie Joseph Parker was arrested Tuesday morning at this East 24th Street office on federal charges of writing prescriptions without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the scope of a professional practice.
Duane "Dak" Kees, United States Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas and Justin King, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, made the announcement at a 3 p.m. press conference in Fort Smith.
A federal grand jury in the Western District of Arkansas indicted Dr. Parker on nine related counts.
According to the Indictment, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Little Rock District Office, Tactical Diversion and Diversion Groups initiated an investigation into Dr. Parker of Texarkana, Arkansas, in 2018 after receiving complaints from local law enforcement about a suspected pill mill and possible overdose death of a patient.
Investigators analyzed prescription drug monitoring data attributed to Dr. Parker, and the investigation revealed Dr. Parker was an over-prescriber of controlled substances, to include opiates, benzodiazepines, and promethazine with codeine cough syrup in the Texarkana area, according to the press release.
"The level and frequency of prescribing, along with the indications that patients could be diverting the narcotics by selling them in the community, concerned numerous peers in the medical community," Kees said.
"These concerns were corroborated by witnesses and patient interviews, as well as prescription data that established the level of opioid and benzodiazepine prescribing and the operation of Primary Care Specialists as a pill mill."
In the two-year period analyzed, Dr. Parker prescribed approximately 1.2 million dosage units of opiates, including oxycodone and hydrocodone, to approximately 1,508 patients — approximately 847 dosage units per patient. Dr. Parker also prescribed approximately 16 gallons of Promethazine with Codeine cough syrup to approximately 29 patients during the same time period. These prescriptions included several prescriptions written in combination with narcotics and sedatives to high diversion risk patients.
Parker also allegedly prescribed about 16 gallons of promethazine with codeine cough syrup to about 29 patients during the same period, the release states. These prescriptions included several that were written in combination with narcotics and sedatives to high diversion risk patients.
This is not Parker's first brush with the law.
Parker was charged in November 1998 with possession of child pornography in the Little Rock Division of the Eastern District of Arkansas, court records show. He was found guilty by a jury in May 2000 of two counts.
In September 2000 he was sentenced by U.S. District Judge George Howard Jr. to 57 months in federal prison. In the years that followed his time behind bars, Parker rebuilt his medical practice though his conviction and status as a sex offender led to some difficulty.
According to a Nov. 14, 2013, article by the Associated Press, Parker's medical license in Arkansas was reinstated in 2005. His status as a convicted sex offender, however, meant that he could not bill Medicaid under Arkansas law. Parker, who was practicing at a Hope, Ark., clinic in 2013, unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of the Arkansas legislation in a federal lawsuit.
Last week, an Arkansas board gave Parker privileges back after prescribing "five gallons of cough syrup" to patients. He was asked by the board to cut back on excessive prescription rates for certain types of cough medicine and ketamine, according to THV11, a CBS affiliate in Little Rock.
According to the news station's article, Parker prescribed "three patients over an eight-month period with five gallons [of prescription cough syrup]".
Other agencies participating in the investigation include the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Texarkana Police Department and the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. Special Assistant United States Attorney Anne Gardner is prosecuting the case for the United States.
In basic legal terms, an Indictment is an accusation. An arrest warrant represents a finding of probable cause. A person is presumed innocent unless or until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
Kees said he and Justin King, assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Arkansas, wanted to thank the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Texarkana Police Department, the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, and Special Assistant United States Attorney Anne Gardner from the Eastern District of Arkansas for their help and cooperation in this matter.
Kees said the abuse of prescription pills is one of the greatest drug problems facing Arkansans today.
"It goes without saying that it is terrible when anyone is hurt by the abuse of prescription medication, but when that abuse comes at the hands of those that have a duty to help us, those that have taken an oath to do no harm, that misconduct must be met with the full extent of the criminal justice system, and that is what I pledge here today: the full extent of the criminal justice system," Kees said.
King said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that 130 Americans die every day of an opioid-related overdose.
Kees said Parker's arraignment will take place Wednesday. Gardner is prosecuting this case for the United States, according to the news release.
U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-Arkansas) released the following statement regarding the announcement of Parker being indicted and arrested on federal charges:
"Prescription drug abuse is a serious problem in Arkansas, especially the opioid crisis which has been widespread and destructive. While Congress has responded with a variety of solutions ranging from prevention to treatment, I have long believed that enforcement and accountability among prescribers is also necessary to stem the tide.
The work of Dak Kees and federal partners at the DEA, FBI, HHS and local agencies to identify and now act to hold over-prescribers responsible sends a clear message as to their intention to crack down on this behavior in order to end the plague of opioid addiction in Arkansas. I congratulate Dak and each of the government agencies involved in this arrest and commend their work to ensure these drugs do not continue to flood our communities and state without consequence."
Parker was featured in a Texarkana Gazette front-page article about this time last year after he became the first Texarkana physician to go public with his decision to prescribe medical marijuana to his patients after it was legalized.
(Thomas Saccente of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette contributed to this story).