A federal jury handed down a guilty verdict in the indictment of Kensington, Maryland physician William Crittenden III. Crittenden faced charges including the unlawful distribution of oxycodone and alprazolam, and eight separate counts of unlawfully distributing oxycodone.

Federal law makes it illegal for licensed health care professionals, such as doctors or pharmacists, to knowingly sell or give prescription drugs to someone who does not have either a valid need or valid prescription for the drugs.  According to court documents, Crittenden served as a medical director at Healthy Life, reportedly writing prescriptions for narcotics to customers without a legitimate medical need.

Crittenden was paid $1,500 a day by the managers of Healthy Life – more than $104,500 over the course of just a few months. He was convicted of knowingly providing prescriptions to oxycodone-addicted individuals, as well as low-level dealers.

“William Crittenden prescribed opioid drugs to people who had no medical need for the drugs.  Pharmaceutical pills can be just as harmful as illegal drugs when they are used without proper oversight,” United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein said in a news release. He announced the guilty verdict on Feb. 22.

According to Deborah C. England, a San Francisco-based litigator who writes extensively about the illegal opiate trade, the easy access through which oxycodone is secured magnifies its popularity.  Nicknamed “hillbilly heroin,” the synthetic opiate has ushered in an entire industry of bogus “pain management clinics,” similar to Healthy Life that facilitate the pill mill.

In an interview with the AFRO, Rosenstein described a culture of growing addiction, facilitated by physicians who operate in the same character as traditional pushers. “Drug addiction is fueled by doctors and pain clinics that prescribe drugs for people without a legitimate medical need,” said Rosenstein. “Some patients become addicted, and others sell the drugs on the streets. Doctors who irresponsibly write opioid prescriptions are acting like street-corner drug pushers.”

According to evidence presented during Crittenden’s 11-day trial, Healthy Life managed two Maryland locations – in Owings Mills and Timonium – and both attracted “large and unruly crowds that reportedly caused disturbances outside the locations, used narcotics inside the clinic, and engaged in narcotics transactions in the parking lot.”

Misuse and abuse of prescription drugs has gained increasing attention in recent years, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting in 2013 nearly 16,000 American deaths resulting from accidental prescription painkiller overdoses. “The question for a lot of people is whether or not a licensed professional should be handled in the same manner as a street dealer and the answer is either a resounding ‘yes,’ or a call for them to given even stiffer penalties,” retired law professor Mariah Early told the AFRO.  “There is a code of conduct, ethics and standards that set professional members of society apart from others. When doctors who have taken the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, systematically endanger their clients, they have betrayed a sacred trust and are worse than dealers on the street.”

Crittenden faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. A date for sentencing has not been announced.