Pharmacist illegally sold over 100,000 opioid pills in Texas and is convicted, feds say

A pharmacist in Texas accused of illegally dispensing more than 100,000 opioid pills was convicted by a federal jury on Sept. 13 for her role in the “pill-mill pharmacy,” according to federal officials.

Deanna Winfield-Gates was a relief pharmacist at Health Fit Pharmacy in Houston, which was registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration as a retail pharmacy in 2009, according to court documents. The cash-only pharmacy, owned by Arthur Nathaniel Billings, would dispense “cocktails of drugs” to drug traffickers between 2014 and 2018 in an attempt to “unlawfully enrich themselves,” court documents say.

Winfield-Gates’ attorney Lance Craig Hamm declined to comment to McClatchy News.

Over the four years Health Fit Pharmacy was operating the illegal business, those involved were shown to have “demonstrated a gross lack of individualized care for the purported patients,” according to court documents.

Fraudulent prescriptions were issued by stealing the identity of local physicians, a Sept. 14 news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Texas said. People posing as “patients” — who were sent by those known as “crew leaders” per court documents — would buy pharmaceuticals from Health Fit Pharmacy to later sell on the black market.

During this period, the release says Winfield-Gates filled “large volumes of cookie-cutter prescriptions.” The opioids listed in the release as ones Winfield-Gates illegally dispensed were:

  • Hydrocodone, also known as Vicodin

  • Oxycodone, also known as OxyContin

  • Carisoprodol, also known as Soma

  • Alprazolam, also known as Xanax

  • Promethazine with codeine, also known colloquially as lean or purple drink

She was convicted of one count of “conspiracy to unlawfully distribute and dispense controlled substances,” according to the release. Winfield-Gates awaits sentencing scheduled for Jan. 11, the release says, where she faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Three others listed in a 2019 indictment alongside Winfield-Gates and Billings: pharmacist-in-charge Jeremy Branch, relief pharmacist Frank Cooper and pharmacy technician Donna Elaine Hooper.

The indictment of those involved at Health Fit Pharmacy was part of a larger takedown of 41 individuals across Houston pharmacies in 2019. Those charged — clinic owners, managers, pharmacists and doctors — came from more than 20 pharmacies and “pill mill” clinics searched by police in the Houston area, as reported by KHOU 11.

The illegal drug network distributed around 23 million opioid pills, according to a 2019 U.S. Attorney’s Office news release.

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