Authorities raid two pain clinics, homes in Johnson

Patients arrested in Johnson County

dhjalmarson@herald-leader.comFebruary 17, 2011 

  • Current bills on pain pills, clinics

    Senate Bill 88 by Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville: Require prescribers of certain controlled substances to search prescription monitoring databases bordering Kentucky and report all "suspect activity" to state police. Referred Feb. 3 to Senate Judiciary Committee.

    Senate Bill 47 by Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon: Require pain management facilities to be licensed, supervised by a physician and regulated by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Referred Jan. 6 to Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations subcommittee.

    House Bill 241 by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville: Allow physician assistants to prescribe narcotics. Waiting for vote in House.

Federal, state and local officers searched two Johnson County pain clinics and two residences Wednesday, a spokeswoman with the state attorney general's office said.

Dr. Richard Albert's office on Ky. 321 and Caremore Pain Management on Tays Branch Road in Paintsville were the targets of a yearlong investigation, referred to the attorney general's prescription drug diversion task force by local police, said spokeswoman Shelley Johnson.

Officers with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the Johnson County sheriff's office and the Paintsville and Prestonsburg police departments raided the four Johnson County locations starting about 8:30 Wednesday morning.

Albert, who on Feb. 2 took out an advertisement in the Paintsville Herald saying he would retire on Feb. 28 and patients had 30 days to pick up their records, surrendered his Kentucky medical license Wednesday, Sheriff Dwayne Price announced.

Several patients at the clinics were arrested on charges of public intoxication and driving under the influence, Price said. Albert was not arrested Wednesday, the sheriff's office said. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Owner of the Caremore clinic, Tammy Cantrell of Oil Spring, did not return a message from the Herald-Leader. The clinic was closed Wednesday afternoon.

Details of the residential locations, contents of the search warrants and identities of suspects were not immediately released.

Johnson County has historically attracted suspicious pain clinics, said Dan Smoot, law enforcement director for Operation UNITE, Eastern Kentucky's prescription drug task force.

"I wish I knew why; we could try and fix it. The people that own the clinics are the ones that are making a lot of money," Smoot said.

In one case, Frederick Cohn, a doctor from Albuquerque, N.M., who worked in Greenup and Johnson counties, admitted conspiring to illegally distribute as many as one million Lorcet pain pills.

Cohn and a Russian doctor who worked at his Paintsville clinic, Yakov Drabovskiy, sometimes spent as little as three minutes with patients and often had new drug orders filled out for patients before the people came in, investigators said.

"The ones that we see that are the problem are the cash-only, open-today-closed-tomorrow operations," Smoot said. "A lot of those ideas were generated from the state of Florida."

In late January, Albert's clinic was open, and signs posted in his lobby said "No checks" and "No credit." Sheriff's deputies waited up the road to spot traffic violations in front of the busy parking lot.

Albert was reprimanded last year by the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure for illegally advertising prescriptions for Suboxone, an opioid drug often used to treat addiction. Albert told the board that he takes cash for services because he got disgusted with delayed payments and the way insurance companies handle claims.

A group of residents and members of a Johnson County church on Monday presented a petition asking the fiscal court to bar pain clinics from the county. The fiscal court is awaiting an opinion from the state attorney general on whether such a ban is legal, said County Attorney Michael Endicott.

There's nothing particular to Johnson County that attracts pain clinics, said Kentucky State Police drug task force Detective Randy Hunter.

"It's more coincidental than anything — other than being situated in Appalachia, in Eastern Kentucky," where there is a long-documented history of addiction to prescription pills, he said.

It would be wrong to think Paintsville is unique, he said.

"Some of those (pain clinics) operate in a legitimate fashion," Hunter said. "There are clinics throughout the region that do not."

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