Ill. Doc Gets 4 Life Terms In Ohio Pill Mill Case

Published February 14, 2012 8:27PM (EST)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A Chicago doctor who prosecutors say dispensed more of the powerful painkiller oxycodone from 2003 to 2005 than any other physician in the country was sentenced Tuesday to four life terms in the overdose deaths of four patients.

Dr. Paul Volkman made weekly trips from Chicago to three locations in Portsmouth in southern Ohio and one in Chillicothe in central Ohio before federal investigators shut down the operations in 2006, prosecutors said. He was sentenced in federal court in Cincinnati.

"This criminal conduct had devastating consequences to the community Volkman was supposed to serve," Assistant U.S. Attorneys Adam Wright and Tim Oakley said in a court filing ahead of Tuesday's hearing.

"Volkman's actions created and prolonged debilitating addictions; distributed countless drugs to be sold on the street; and took the lives of numerous individuals who died just days after visiting him," they said.

The 64-year-old Volkman fired his attorneys earlier this month and said he acted at all times as a doctor, not a drug dealer.

"The typical drug dealer does not care how much drugs a client buys, how often he buys, or what he does with his drugs," Volkman said in a 28-page handwritten court filing Monday, maintaining that he did all those things and more for his patients.

Volkman was also handed prison terms ranging from 10 to 20 years on 13 other counts related to drug trafficking. He received five years for possessing a weapon while participating in drug trafficking.

He was also convicted of eight other distribution counts that prosecutors said resulted in fatal overdoses but didn't leave enough evidence to convict him of the deaths.

Volkman declined to testify at a lengthy trial last spring that saw 70 government witnesses, including pharmacists, police investigators, clinic employees and patients who received pills from Volkman.

A 2007 indictment alleged Volkman went to work at the Tri-State Health Care and Pain Management clinic in southern Ohio in 2003. The clinic was operated by a mother and daughter who have since pleaded guilty to one count of operating Tri-State as a place whose primary purpose was the illegal distribution of prescription drugs.

Denise Huffman and her daughter, Alice Huffman Ball, testified against Volkman at trial. Huffman Ball was sentenced to five years in prison last year. Denise Huffman was scheduled for sentencing Tuesday.

The indictment said patients came from hundreds of miles away and were charged $125 to $200 in cash for visits to see a doctor.

Prosecutors said Volkman rarely, if ever, counseled patients on alternate treatments for pain, such as physical therapy, surgery or addiction counseling. Volkman denied the allegations and said he always acted in good faith.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has identified southern Ohio as one of the hardest hit spots in the country for painkiller abuse. Overdose deaths driven by prescription painkiller abuse are now the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio over car crashes.

By Salon Staff

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