Doctor avoids federal prison time in opioid prescription case involving nearly 20,000 pills
By Matt Miller | email@example.com Date Octuber 7th, 2019
A 75-year-old midstate doctor who insisted he was showing compassion, not criminal intent, when he prescribed thousands of pills of opioid painkillers to a patient as they sat in his van won’t be going to federal prison.
Instead, after an array of witnesses testified to his decades of selflessness, Dr. Robert T. Stremmel of York was sentenced Monday to 2 years of probation and fined $3,339.
“I do feel like this is a special case,” U.S. Middle District Senior Judge Yvette Kane said in turning aside a prosecution request for jail time.
Unlike other doctors she has sentenced, Stremmel didn’t use his prescription pad for personal profit or trade drugs for sex, the judge said.
“There is no evidence to support this man benefited in any personal way from any misjudgments he is guilty of,” Kane said at the end of the nearly two-hour sentencing hearing.
Stremmel, an osteopath who has surrendered his medical license, pleaded guilty to illegally distributing medications and to making false statements in health care matters.
Special Agent John Riley of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told Kane that Stremmel prescribed 10,680 pills of oxycontin and 8,431 amphetamine tablets to the female patient in the van between January 2013 and April 2017. There was no indication the doctor had thoroughly examined that patient before writing those scripts, Riley said.
Stremmel’s lawyer, Douglas P. France, insisted the doctor had done that because the woman lacked medical insurance and Stremmel would have had to charge her had she made an office visit.
“He’s an honest, giving, caring person who made mistakes,” France said in asking that his client be punished only with a fine.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daryl F. Bloom argued that jail time was justified because conduct like Stremmel’s is feeding the nationwide opioid addiction crisis.
“He prescribed medications without medical necessity,” Bloom said. “We’re talking about tens of thousands of pills.”
“Eighty percent of heroin users start with prescription opiates. He’s part of the problem,” the prosecutor said.
Stremmel said the criminal charges arose from his own stupidity. In 47 years of medical practice, “I gave the utmost care I could,” he told Kane.
“I ask for mercy so I might spend my remaining days in a normal manner,” Stremmel added.
“There has to be an example. There has to be something beyond a fine,” Bloom said in pressing for prison. “There has to be some greater consequence to deter others from committing this same crime.”
“If someone was on the street dispensing (the same drugs) they would be going to jail,” he said.
In deciding not to make Stremmel that example, Kane cited his “commendable personal history” of charitable works to individuals and the community at large. His age and “poor” health contributed to her sentencing decision as well, she said.
“He has lost his medical license. There is no risk to the community,” Kane said.