A state investigator says the prescription drug case involving a Northeast Missouri doctor is part of a growing problem.

 


A state investigator says the prescription drug case involving a Northeast Missouri doctor is part of a growing problem.
As the Courier-Post first reported last week, Dr. Charles Sutherland of rural Moberly faces charges after an investigation at his now-shuttered clinic at 221 N. Main in Paris.
Sutherland, 50, is accused of two counts of felony forgery, three counts of felony distribution of a controlled substance in violation of registration requirements and two misdemeanor charges of deceptive business practice.
Mike Boeger is administrator of the Missouri Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, and did the investigation which led to Sutherland’s arrest.
The agency is in charge of registering practitioners who prescribe controlled substances and keeping track of what they distribute.
Boeger says enforcement is getting tougher because drug abuse is rising at a time of budget cutbacks.
“The abuse of pharmaceutical and prescription drugs is one of the growing trends across America,” Boeger said. “The easiest way to get drugs is to go to a doctor’s office and get a prescription.”
Authorities allege Sutherland illegally wrote 28 prescriptions for controlled substances from Sept. 10, 2008, to July 21, 2009.
The drugs included narcotic pain relievers such as hydrocodone, vicodin and codeine, anxiety drugs such as alprazolam, sedatives such as zolpidem and stimulants such as phentermine.
Sutherland also is accused of illegally writing a prescription for the non-controlled pain reliever Nubain.
In an interview with the Courier-Post, Sutherland called the accusations lies.
Sutherland was adamant that he did not take the drugs and said he believes two former employees in his Paris office forged his name on the prescriptions, then sold or took the drugs themselves.
The women, whom investigators have declined to identify, have not been charged in the case.
“It looks like I’m guilty until proven innocent,” Sutherland said.
Sutherland said his attorney, Bogdan Susan of Columbia, and a private investigator plan a probe of their own to get at what he says will be evidence that proves his innocence.
“I just hope that justice will prevail and that the truth will come out and I will be vindicated,” he said.

Problematic history
Court records show Sutherland had problems with authorities even before he began practicing in Missouri.
In 1991, his medical license in North Dakota was restricted because he “habitually self-administered controlled substances for other than medically accepted therapeutic purposes,” according to the documents.
On Feb. 23, 1993, Sutherland voluntarily surrendered his federal controlled substances registration.
A week later, he was put on probation in Illinois and ordered not to dispense controlled drugs indefinitely.
Documents show that Illinois suspended Sutherland’s medical license on Jan. 30, 1997, for violating terms of the probation.
Eight months later, Missouri issued him a 10-year probationary license.
It included a ban that prevented Sutherland from applying for a controlled substances registration without the consent of the state Board of Registration for the Healing Arts, which licenses doctors.
The board issued a public reprimand to Sutherland’s Missouri medical license after he was arrested for driving while intoxicated and assaulting a law officer on Nov. 15, 1997.
On June 9, 1999, the board amended its order and allowed Sutherland to apply for controlled substance registration. Records show he was approved on Sept. 7, 1999.
Four years later, Sutherland again was arrested for driving while intoxicated and other traffic violations.
The Board of Healing Arts suspended Sutherland’s medical license for 60 days and issued another 10 years of probation to begin on Feb. 14, 2005.
Records show Sutherland completed a controlled substance record-keeping course one day later.
On Aug. 4, 2005, the board publicly reprimanded Sutherland and 11 days later, the bureau revoked his controlled substances registration for two years.
In its investigation, the bureau found that Sutherland had violated his probation by by “consuming alcoholic beverages” and issuing “prescriptions and orders for...controlled substances outside his authority,” documents revealed.
On Aug. 7, 2007, Sutherland applied for a new Missouri controlled substances registration. He got a restricted registration on Feb. 21, 2008.
Seven months later, on Sept. 10, he allegedly began writing illegal prescriptions again.

Tips lead to arrest
In early July 2009, Boeger got a call from several Northeast Missouri pharmacies.
They suspected prescriptions written by Sutherland were bogus, and said the doctor would not return their calls.
“They were trying to verify things and they weren’t getting anywhere,” Boeger said.
Boeger knew Sutherland was on probation and decided to visit five pharmacies in Paris, Monroe City and Moberly.
“That was someone we were trying to keep an eye on,” he said.
Sutherland’s records also were inspected. Boeger declined to be specific, but said he found what he called violations of Sutherland’s probation.
Authorities have not said what happened to the drugs Sutherland allegedly prescribed illegally.
Investigators say one of the two women who worked for the doctor at the Paris clinic left the job in March 2009.
She told Sgt. Joe Colston of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department she had “become aware that prescriptions from Dr. Sutherland for Nubain were being filled in her name and being picked up by Dr. Sutherland,” according to the probable cause statement.
Sutherland allegedly wrote 94 Nubain prescriptions for the woman, who told Colston she “did not request these nor did she fill them.”
Travis Ford is a spokesman with the Missouri Division of Professional Registration, which includes the Board of Healing Arts.
Ford declined to discuss specifics of the Sutherland case, but said physician drug abuse is “a big concern for us.”
Ford said Sutherland’s conduct prior to the latest charges did not rise to the level of license revocation under state law.
“It's not as if we could have taken more severe action, but we decided not to,” he said.
The state has programs for doctors and other medical professionals who have substance abuse problems, and participation does not necessarily affect their licensing.
Records show that Sutherland could have been required by the state under the 2008 restricted registration to seek medical treatment.
The documents do not show whether the state followed through, and the issue was not discussed in the Courier-Post’s telephone interview.
A warrant for Sutherland’s arrest was issued on Aug. 10.

What’s next
Sutherland still had his Missouri medical license Tuesday, but said he was in the process of surrendering it.
A condition of his release on an $80,000 surety bond was that he not practice medicine. He also had to surrender his passport.
Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney Nicole Volkert declined to discuss specifics of the case.
“I believe the facts to be as presented in the probable cause statement,” Volkert said.
A status hearing before Monroe County Judge Michael P. Wilson is at 9 a.m. Aug. 25. A preliminary hearing could be set.
Meanwhile, Boeger was getting back to work.
Since last October, Missouri has disciplined 14 doctors for various violations.
A few years ago, the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs had 18 employees who oversaw 22,000 registrants.
Now, there are almost 28,000 practitioners, but the bureau has just seven employees.
“We used to be able to catch (abusers) early,” Boeger said. “Now, they’re getting to the point where they’re in worse condition.”