Two Naturopaths Agree to Pay $32,000 in Civil Penalties For Improper Prescription of Opioids and Controlled Substances
SPOKANE, Wash.– Dr. Jacqueline Thomas, N.D., an East Wenatchee-based naturopathic doctor, and Dr. Rebecka Hoppins, an Edmonds-based naturopathic doctor, have each agreed to pay $16,500 to resolve allegations under the Controlled Substances Act that they improperly prescribed controlled substances. The Controlled Substances Act regulates certain drugs deemed to pose a risk of abuse and dependence. To protect public safety and prevent misuse and diversion, the Act requires practitioners to register with the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) to prescribe these controlled substances.
During the relevant time period, Dr. Thomas and Dr. Hoppins were both naturopathic doctors licensed and practicing in the State of Washington. Under state and federal law, as naturopathic doctor, Dr. Thomas and Dr. Hoppins were only authorized to prescribe two types of controlled substances: codeine and testosterone products. Nonetheless, in the settlement agreement between the United States and Dr. Thomas, Dr. Thomas admitted to issuing 110 prescriptions for controlled substances that she was not licensed to prescribe between December 2016 and September 2021. These included the narcotic opioid tramadol; the sleep aids zolpidem (often sold under the brand name Ambien) and eszopiclone (often sold under the brand name Lunesta); the sedative pregabalin (sometimes sold under the brand name Lyrica); and the diet drug phentermine. Similarly, in the settlement agreement between Dr. Hoppins and the United States, Dr. Hoppins admitted to issuing 110 invalid prescriptions for controlled substances between 2017 and 2022, including the benzodiazepine alprazolam; the narcotic opioids hydrocodone and tramadol; and the sleep aids eszopiclone (commonly prescribed under the brand name Lunesta) and zopidem (often sold under the brand name Ambien).
The settlement agreement also further sets forth that both doctors ceased their improper prescribing practices after being contacted by the DEA. Dr. Hoppins voluntarily surrendered her DEA registration and implemented additional controls to ensure appropriate prescribing going forward, while Dr. Thomas entered into a separate compliance agreement with DEA to submit regular prescribing logs and to undertake additional corrective actions to ensure that this conduct does not recur.
“The careless and irresponsible prescribing habits of Dr. Hoppins and Dr. Thomas are a violation of federal law and in serious breach of their naturopathic license, presenting a clear and present danger to our nation’s health, safety and security,” said Frank A. Tarentino III, Special Agent in Charge, DEA Seattle Field Division. “Although regretful and conciliatory, the behavior of these medical professionals significantly contributes to the many complexities fueling the opioid epidemic and endangering the citizens of Washington. We will continue to work with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners in the opioid and overdose prevention awareness campaign and relentless pursuit of all those involved in the trafficking of opioids.”
“I am relieved that it does not appear anyone was seriously harmed by medications improperly prescribed by these practitioners, and I commend both for admitting their past conduct and committing to strict compliance going forward. But when a healthcare practitioner prescribes controlled substances that she is not licensed or qualified to prescribe, the public is placed at serious risk of potentially dangerous side effects, drug interactions, and contraindications,” said Vanessa R. Waldref, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington. “This resolution demonstrates our strong commitment to protecting public health and to keeping our communities strong and safe. In particular, I commend the excellent investigative work conducted by DEA’s Diversion Group, and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to hold health care practitioners accountable.”
These are the latest in a series of settlements the U.S. Attorney’s Office has announced with naturopaths for improperly prescribing controlled substances. In November 2021, Dr. Christopher M. Valley, a Spokane-based naturopath, agreed to pay $47,700 to resolve his liability under the Controlled Substances Act, while Dr. Judith Caporiccio, a Richland naturopath, entered into a $70,096 settlement resolving her liability in February 2022.
The settlement was the result of a joint investigation conducted by DEA’s Seattle Field Office, Diversion Group, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, Seattle Field Office, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington. Assistant United States Attorneys Dan Fruchter and Tyler H.L. Tornabene handled this matter on behalf of the United States.