If you drive north of Chattanooga for about 140 miles, you will come to small, sparsely populated Clay County. A doctor in the rural Middle Tennessee county was recently arrested on drug crime charges, accused of overprescribing opioids and benzodiazepines for no legitimate reason.
Federal prosecutors allege that 65-year-old family doctor and obstetrician Gilbert Ghearing prescribed the medications to patients he knew were abusing the drugs.
At least two of Ghearing’s patients overdosed, officials say.
Clay County has the highest per capita opioid prescription rate in the state, according to a news article in the Tennessean.
Law enforcement officials said that just two days before Ghearing was arrested at his Celina office, he had purchased a one-way ticket to the Marshall Islands – about 6,500 miles from Tennessee.
Ghearing reportedly prescribed the dangerous combination of opioids and benzodiazepines to one patient whose mother contacted the physician and said her son was abusing the medications. The patient later overdosed, officials said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, about one-third of all drug overdoses involve a combination of benzodiazepines and opioids. Benzodiazepines include brands such as Xanax and Valium.
Ghearing’s Celina office is located between two pharmacies that are both subjects of a federal lawsuit. A pharmacist at one was arrested on multiple alleged violations of the Controlled Substances Act just two weeks before the doctor was busted.
Ghearing is also accused of Controlled Substances Act violations for allegedly prescribing Schedule II and Schedule IV drugs without legitimate medical reasons. If convicted, he faces up to two decades in a federal prison and a $1 million fine.
Those facing similar allegations have the right to decline to speak to prosecutors until they have spoken first with a Chattanooga attorney experienced in effective drug crime defense.