The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia remains resolute in fighting the opioid epidemic that has plagued communities throughout the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention, more than 140 Americans die daily from an opioid overdose, and in 2017, nearly 1,050 Georgians died from an opioid overdose. It is imperative that all levels of law enforcement, community organizations, policy makers, and citizens remain firmly committed to battling this epidemic.
“Earlier this year, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency and set a goal to reduce opioid prescriptions by one-third over the next three years,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “In our District, the results are promising. There were approximately 20 percent fewer opioid prescriptions written and filled in Fiscal Year 2018 than in Fiscal Year 2016, and the total Morphine Milligram Equivalents (MME) decreased over 18 percent for that same period. But our work is far from done. We are committed to further reducing the excess supply of prescription opioids which has unintentionally fueled the epidemic.”
“The DEA is committed to continuing the progress that has been made against the opioid epidemic by collaborating with local, state and federal law enforcement counterparts and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in an effort to decrease the growing prescription drug abuse problem in our state,” said Robert J. Murphy, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division. “Through this collaborative effort, we will continue to target those criminals in Georgia and elsewhere who illegally distribute prescription drugs in our communities.”
In 2017, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia launched Operation SCOPE (Strategically Combatting Opioids through Prosecution and Enforcement). Operation SCOPE is designed to identify and prosecute those who illegally distribute opioids in our community through a collaborative partnership with state and local law enforcement. The initiative takes a three-fold approach to fighting the opioid crisis and focuses on:
●Identifying medical practitioners who overprescribe opioids, and those who defraud our health care system. For example, our office recently identified and sent approximately 30 medical professionals notification letters who were prescribing opioids in higher quantities or does than their peers. The letters provided prescribers with information pertaining to their opioid practices relative to their peers and referred them to educational materials to assist them in adopting safe opioid practices. Read more here.
●Investigating and prosecuting drug traffickers who illegally distribute opioids within the District, particularly those suppliers who are responsible for overdose deaths and non-fatal overdoses resulting in serious bodily harm caused by their product. For example, in
United States v. Edward Culton and Hubert Nathans: These defendants were charged with distributing fake Roxicodone pills that actually contained fentanyl. The distribution of the fake pill resulted in one overdose death and one non-fatal overdose in October 2017 and January 2018, respectively. Nathans pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute fentanyl on August 13, 2018, and has a sentencing hearing scheduled for November 13, 2018. Read more on this case here;
United States v. Donquell Weddington: Donquell Weddington was charged with distributing heroin April 2017, which resulted in the death of a 33-year old student who suffered and was treated for a drug overdose. The student later collapsed and died at Hartfield-Jackson International Airport the morning after being treated for the heroin overdose. Weddington’s case is currently in the pretrial phase. Read more on this case here; and
United States v. Michelle Dawn Dorsey, et al: Michelle Dawn Dorsey, Nigel Alan Waddell, Derrik Omar Frazier, and Tyler Josiah Matthews were charged with trafficking heroin. Dorsey is charged with distributing heroin, resulting in serious bodily injury in February 2016 and February 2017. Frazier is charged with aiding and abetting Dorsey’s distribution of heroin in February 2017, resulting in serious bodily injury. Waddell was sentenced to three years in federal prison on February 7, 2018. Matthews pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and is awaiting sentencing. Read more on this case here.
●Targeting online suppliers, mainly from China and Mexico, who traffic opioids that can be purchased anonymously through the Dark Net.
The following are other opioid-related cases relating to traffickers, medical professionals, and others who committed serious drug crimes in the District:
United States v. Dr. Joseph L. Burton: Dr. Burton, a pathologist and former county medical examiner, and his conspirators were charged in a scheme to prescribe controlled substances outside of the scope of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose. In return for sexual favors, Dr. Burton supplied opioids to women who sold the pills. Dr. Burton was sentenced to eight years in federal prison on August 30, 2018. Read more on this case here.
United States v. Dr. John Michael Gowder, et al: John Michael Gowder, Dr. David Gowder, and Dr. James Heaton, were charged with illegally distributing oxycodone and other controlled substances outside the usual course of professional medical practice and for no legitimate medical purpose. They also allegedly directed employees of the Union General Hospital to assist them in distributing the drugs. Read more on this case here.
United States v. Elgin Demarco Jordan: Elgin Jordan was convicted of trafficking heroin and cocaine in the English Avenue area, along with money laundering. He used the proceeds from his drug activity to purchase several properties in the English Avenue area. Jordan was sentenced to eight years in prison and ordered to forfeit 14 properties, some of which were transferred to the Atlanta Police Department and the Atlanta Police Foundation to be used for police recruit housing. Read more on this case here.
United States v. Bernard Stokley, et al: Bernard Stokley, a/k/a Big Pat, Tobias Ellison, Alvin Hughley, a/k/a Alvin Beasley, and Vance Hoard, a/k/a Bernard Hoard, a/k/a Vance Holland were charged with conspiracy to import and to possess with intent to distribute heroin and money laundering. The defendants advertised their heroin on Facebook, and accepted orders over the telephone and through social media, including Facebook and Snapchat. Read more on this case here.
While the war to defeat the opioid crisis is far from over, the battle is being fought on several fronts. Specifically,
In August 2018, the Department of Justice and the DEA announced a proposal to decrease the in manufacturing quota for the six most frequently misused opioids by 10% in 2019. To learn more about the proposed plan click here.
On October 1, 2018, the Department of Justice awarded approximately $320 million to combat the opioid crisis in the United States, of which $5,791,356 was awarded to support programs here in Georgia. In the Northern District of Georgia, $2,240,783 was specifically awarded to support drug programs, youth-mentoring programs, and local agencies in Cobb and Douglas Counties. A breakdown of the awards can be found here.
On June 15, 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia partnered with the Atlanta-Carolinas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Office to create a public service announcement (PSA) to raise awareness of the devastating effects of opioids. On June 15, 2018, the PSA started airing for five weeks in 17 movie theaters across the District, featuring Joseph Abraham, a 19-year old from Gwinnett County, GA, who lost his battle with drug addiction minutes after taking a fatal mixture of heroin and fentanyl. The PSA ran a total of 76,887 times and was seen by over one million viewers. To view the PSA click here.
For the referenced cases, members of the public are reminded that the indictment only contains charges. The defendant is presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government’s burden to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.