Texas Pill Mills Paid Homeless People To Act As Pain Patients

By Victoria Kim 03/03/17

The Texas-based operations would recruit people of limited means to pose as patients in an effort to obtain opioids.

Homeless man holding hands up for help.

Pill mills in Dallas have been recruiting homeless people to help obtain prescriptions for opioid painkillers—which would then be sold for a profit.

Two more people were sentenced in late February in connection with a larger pill mill conspiracy operating out of Dallas. Taneisha Nickerson and Adrian Banks received separate sentences of two years and 20 months, respectively, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Dallas.

Both pleaded guilty last August to one count of unlawful use of a communication device, for using their phones to set up deliveries of hundreds of oxycodone and hydrocodone pills (branded as OxyContin, Vicodin, and more) that were distributed throughout Dallas, Austin, Houston, and Louisiana.

The Dallas-based operation would recruit homeless people or people of limited means to pose as patients, obtain prescriptions, and fill them at pharmacies, according to the Justice Department.

A similar operation, also in Dallas, was busted in recent years. The group of co-conspirators—including a local anesthesiologist—also recruited fake patients from homeless shelters. According to an FBI release, they would drive the "patients" to and from clinics and pharmacies to get opioids, and then paid them for their services. The co-conspirators were convicted of unlawfully distributing controlled substances in 2015.

Pill mills are lucrative. But with the heightened scrutiny on the inappropriate prescribing of opioids in recent years, these doctors, pain clinics, and pharmacies seeking to turn a profit by illegally prescribing or dispensing pain medication, are being brought down by authorities, one by one.

Their punishments are far from benign. In 2015, Jeff George was sentenced to 20 years in prison for running a $40 million "pain pill empire" in South Florida. According to the Sun Sentinel, George faced a possible life sentence for the overdose death of a former patient, but took a plea deal instead.

A harsher punishment was dealt to Richard McMillan, another South Florida man who received a 35-year prison sentence, for running a chain of pain clinics that made millions of dollars by illegally selling oxycodone pills. 

Judge Cheryl Caracuzzo handed down the unusually long sentence in February. She said to McMillan, "I’m not doing this to send a message to you ... [but] to help people when looking forward, if they want a business venture, to understand there’s consequences to choices that we make."

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr