Millions of pills. Pharmacy owner from KY charged in alleged drug conspiracy.

An Eastern Kentucky man allegedly took part in a conspiracy to improperly distribute millions of pain pills in areas of Appalachia hit hard by drug abuse.

Samuel “Randy” Ballengee, 54, was among those indicted on a charge of conspiracy. Ballengee is from Lovely, in Martin County, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Ballengee once owned Tug Valley Pharmacy in Williamson, West Virginia.

He was indicted in federal court in Cincinnati along with Anthony Rattini, 71, of Colorado, the former president of a drug distribution company called Miami-Luken; James Barclay, 72, of Ohio, the company’s former compliance officer; and Devonna Miller-West, 49, who owned a pharmacy in Oceana, W.V.

Miami-Luken and its officers named in the charge allegedly failed to effectively guard against diversion of the drugs they sold, failed to report suspicious orders to regulators as required and “continued to ship the dangerous addictive drugs to pharmacies in rural Appalachia where the opioid epidemic was at its peak,” the indictment said.

The drug company and the pharmacy owners kept dispensing pain pills despite knowing they were being diverted for illegal sales and abuse, or were likely to be diverted.

In one example, the company shipped 100,000 pills to an unnamed pharmacy in October 2008 despite knowing the pharmacy was under investigation and had stopped filling orders from a doctor over concerns about improper prescribing, the indictment said.

The next month, the company allegedly shipped 750,000 pills directly to the doctor.

The indictment outlined staggering amounts of pills shipped to small towns in Appalachia.

For instance, Miami-Luken allegedly distributed 3.7 million dosage units of hydrocodone between 2008 and 2011 to a pharmacy in Kermit, W.V., a town of about 400 that borders Kentucky. The indictment did not name the pharmacy.

The company distributed more than 6 million dosage units of hydrocodone to Ballengee at Tug Valley Pharmacy between 2008 and 2014, the indictment said.

Ballengee reportedly sold the pharmacy in 2018.

The conspiracy charge has a top sentence of 20 years in prison.

Prescription opioids, such as oxycodone, have been a key cause of overdose deaths in Kentucky and elsewhere. The number of deaths involving prescription opioids has dropped in Kentucky in recent years, however.