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Counselor at Western Virginia pain clinics gets 2 years in prescription drug conspiracy

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A former counselor at pain management clinics in Western Virginia was sentenced Friday to two years in prison for conspiring to illegally distribute prescription medication to patients, three of whom died from fatal overdoses.

Charles Wilson Adams Jr. of Dobson, North Carolina, had earlier pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Abingdon.

Adams worked for L5 Medical Holdings at locations in Christiansburg, Woodlawn and Lynchburg. He received a reduced sentence because of his assistance in an ongoing investigation, prosecutors wrote in court records.

From 2014 to 2020, Adams worked as a counselor at the clinics, where staff prescribed painkillers without authorization, often after becoming aware that patients were exhibiting “red flags” of drug abuse.

“Adams was aware of both red flags and the illegitimacy of prescribing practices ... and knowingly and voluntarily participated in the endeavor,” a plea agreement he signed last year stated.

The clinics also provided treatment to drug addicts by dispensing Suboxone, which is used to ease opioid addiction.

Although Adams was described by L5 Medical Holdings as a substance abuse counselor, he lacked certification from the Virginia Board of Counseling, according to court records.

He was also referred to as doctor inside the company, “but has never been a medical practitioner or possessed authority to prescribe controlled substances,” the plea agreement stated.

Adams was not directly charged with the overdose deaths of three patients, including one who passed out in the waiting room of the Lynchburg clinic and had to be hospitalized. Two months later, the patient died from an overdose of fentanyl and oxycodone.

Details of patients who failed drug tests, showed other signs of substance abuse, traveled long distances to reach the clinics, and provided inadequate medical records — but continued to receive prescriptions — are detailed in a 20-page summary of the charges.

In July 2021, Adams pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to use the DEA registration number of another to distribute controlled substances, one count of conspiring to distribute Suboxone, and one count of conspiring to distribute oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, methadone and fentanyl.

“Mr. Adams has taken full responsibility for his involvement,” his attorney, Christopher Clifton of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said after Friday’s hearing.

Clifton asked that four factors be determined in setting punishment: Adam’s full admission of what he did, his lack of a prior criminal record, his mental health issues and his immediate payment of a $5,000 fine.

In a letter to U.S. District Judge James Jones, Adam’s wife wrote that he was a caring professional who mentored to troubled people who had been written off by others.

“It is my position that any negligence on his part was that of not recognizing that he could not effect change in the environment where he was,” Stacie Adams wrote.

“Perhaps he was at fault for staying in a system that was not going in the right direction due to his desire to help and not abandon the patients that he served who were at risk for relapse or suicide.”

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