Local officials pleased with guilty plea
Local law enforcement say they're pleased with last week's guilty plea by a local doctor charged with dealing drugs out of his Ironton medical office.
They also say the arrests of Dr. Randall McCollister and two of his patients has had an impact on the area's illegal OxyContin market.
McCollister pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati Friday to conspiracy to dispense and distribute OxyContin and other pain-relief drugs.
He will be sentenced within 90 days by U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott.
"I'm definitely pleased. It was a lengthy case for us, very involved," Ironton Police Detective Chris Bowman said. "It's the first time in my career we ever cut the drugs off at the source."
investigators usually start with the people at the bottom of the drug chain and work their way up, most of the time never reaching the person at the top -- the ultimate supplier of the goods.
Lawrence County Drug Task Force Investigator David Marcum said that since McCollister was arrested this summer, there has been a noticeable reduction in OxyContin trafficking in the area.
"It's substantial," Marcum said. "It's not nearly as easy to obtain on the streets."
Both Bowman and Marcum are quick to point out that the investigation was result of teamwork. A number of state, federal and local law enforcement agencies worked together for more than a year to assemble the information needed to arrest not only McCollister but two of his patients as well, Donald Sherman and Lawrence Jenkins.
"Investigations like this never occur without the cooperation of a number of agencies," Marcum said. "It was a combined effort."
Lawrence County Prosecutor J. B. Collier Jr. said the agencies that worked together collected a massive amount of evidence in the case. In the end, the evidence apparently persuaded McCollister to plead guilty.
"He had no wiggle room," Collier said. "We had a very solid case against him."
Collier said he hopes McCollister's guilty plea sends a strong message to those people who live on the other side of the law.
"It doesn't matter who you are, if you are involved in illegal drug trafficking, you are not immune from prosecution."
Both Collier and Bowman said that people should not judge all doctors by the actions of one bad apple, and pointed out that the vast majority of doctors are law abiding people and a credit to their profession.
"Most doctors don't operate this way," Bowman said.
"But those that do, we will be watching."
Collier wonders why McCollister, who worked his way through medical school and built a medical practice on his own hard work, chose to throw away his career and reputation.
"He's going to prison for several years, and he will no doubt lose his medical license. It's a heck of a price to pay," Collier said.
McCollister now faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
He and a patient, Lawrence Jenkins were arrested June 21, 2002. Another patient, Donald Sherman was arrested three days later.
McCollister is accused of writing prescriptions, often using the names of former or current patients who owed his office money, and also used the names of deceased or non existent patients.
Jenkins and Sherman would then allegedly take the prescriptions, have them filled and give the pills to other people.
Jenkins is accused of using Medicaid cards to pay for the prescriptions without the permission of the card holders.
Both of these men were released on bond and await a pre trial hearing.
The investigation that led to the arrests spanned more than a year and involved a number of state, local and federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office, Ironton Police Department, Lawrence County Prosecutor's Office, the Jackson County Sheriff's Office, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations and Identification, the Ohio Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, the Ohio State Medical Board and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Diversion Unit.