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Fed shuts down clinics linked to pill deaths


Terry Kinney
The Associated Press
CINCINNATI — A Chicago doctor and two Kentucky women who ran pain clinics in southern Ohio distributed millions of highly addictive pills that may have led to more than a dozen deaths, according to a federal indictment.
The mother of one man who died says there’s no doubt in her mind.
“I’m sure the pills they gave him killed him,” said Lena Coffee, 79, of Greenup, Ky. “I think it was just plain murder.”
Coffee’s son, Daniel Coffee, 47, a school janitor from Greenup, was one of 14 people identified in a federal indictment as victims of overzealous medication during a 2½-year period. She said her son went to the Tri-State Health Care Clinic in Portsmouth because he had been in severe pain since being in a car wreck.
“He came home on a Friday and told me, ‘He gave me three prescriptions,’” she said of the visit to the doctor. “The instructions were to take one pill of each on the first day, two of each on the second day and three of each on the third day.
“The third day was the day he died. We went over to his place and found him dead.”
Three days later, on Nov. 20, 2003, another Greenup customer of the clinic, Jeffrey Reed, died.
The deaths began in June 2003 when Dr. Paul Volkman prescribed a mix of oxycodone, hydrocodone and other drugs to Aaron Gillespie, 33, of Portsmouth, according to the indictment. Gillespie died four days later of multiple drug intoxication.
The indictment lists at least four other patients who died within days of taking drug combinations prescribed by Volkman. The government contends there often was no medical reason for the clinic to distribute millions of pills over several years, and it wants the three defendants to forfeit the profits from the illegal sales — just under $3.1 million from each of the women defendants and nearly $3.8 million from
Volkman, 60, was arrested Monday in Chicago, where he has a home. Denise Huffman, 54, and her daughter, Alice Huffman Ball, 32, both of South Shore, Ky., were arrested in Ohio and pleaded not guilty to numerous drug and conspiracy charges on Wednesday before a U.S. magistrate in Cincinnati.
They were freed on their own recognizance but must wear electronic monitors. Their cases were transferred to U.S. District Judge Sandra Beckwith.
Volkman is in custody in Chicago, where he appeared at a preliminary hearing on Thursday and asked to represent himself, said Fred Alverson, spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Columbus. The judge urged Volkman to seek legal counsel and return for a hearing on Tuesday, Alverson said.
One of the charges against all three is distribution of a controlled substance that results in death, a felony that could land them in prison for life.
A federal complaint says Denise Huffman owned the Tri-State Health Care Clinic and hired Volkman to write prescriptions for drugs that were dispensed out of the back of the clinic because local pharmacies refused to honor prescriptions he wrote.
It was a cash-only business, with a $200 charge for an office appointment, and people often drove hundreds of miles from Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee to obtain OxyContin and other highly addictive pills, which often were then sold on the street, the government contends.
The indictment alleges that Huffman and her employees kept guns, ball bats and other weapons in the office in case patients became unruly, and that Volkman hired an armed guard.
Huffman got her start in illicit drug sales by working for a Kentucky physician now in prison for running a “pill mill,” the government contends. She then set up the clinic in Portsmouth and hired a series of physicians to dispense prescriptions before Volkman became a regular from about April 2003 to September 2005.
Volkman then set up his own pain clinic in Chillicothe, where pills were prescribed for five of the 14 people who died, the indictment says.
The government alleges that some patients were told to sign a “death waiver,” that hospitals were told that the clinic didn’t want to be notified if a patient was treated for an overdose, and that when a patient died, records were removed from office files so authorities could not review them.
“They were involved in a legal operation,” James Rion, a Dayton attorney representing Denise Huffman, said last week. “Drugs were dispensed in a lawful manner.”
Volkman’s daughter, Jane Volkman, 29, of Champaign, Ill., said his family would fight the charges.

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