Former Alaska Advanced Nurse Practitioner Sentenced to 30 Years for Illegally Prescribing Millions of Opioids Causing Five Deaths
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA—Former Advanced Nurse Practitioner Jessica Joyce Spayd (52) was sentenced in U.S. District Court yesterday to 30 years (360 months) imprisonment for illegally prescribing and dispensing opioids outside the scope of legitimate medical practice that resulted in the deaths of five people between 2014 and 2019. United States District Judge Joshua M. Kindred handed down the sentence.
A jury convicted Spayd on October 27, 2022, of 10 crimes including five counts of illegal drug distribution that resulted in death and one count of maintaining a drug involved premises. She was also ordered to forfeit $117,000 in unlawful proceeds.
The parties presented 51 witnesses during the four-week trial. Government witnesses included pharmacists who refused to fill prescriptions from Spayd, law enforcement agents and officers who investigated the deaths, Spayd’s employees, individuals who received pills from Spayd, medical experts, every Medical Examiner in Alaska (each of whom performed autopsies on different overdose victims), and family members of the victims.
Evidence presented during the trial showed that Spayd prescribed and dispensed 4.5 million dosages of opioids in just over five years including fentanyl, methadone, oxycodone, and hydromorphone. Many times she combined those prescriptions with prescriptions for dangerous other drugs like valium and muscle relaxers, known as the “holy trinity,” greatly increasing the chances of overdose death. She wrote these prescriptions with little to no medical justification or treatment plan; minimal, if any, tests or physical examinations; and little, if any, considerations of non-opioid treatment. Many of her patients were vulnerable and suffering from chronic pain, addiction, and mental illness, yet Spayd disregarded their medical histories, risk factors, past overdoses, symptoms, and pleas to reduce or taper their doses. She also ignored warnings from patients’ family members, pharmacists, and other medical providers, and defied thousands of warning letters sent by insurance companies about the dangers of her practices.
“Ms. Spayd betrayed the trust of her profession, those under her care, and her community by prescribing a staggering amount of opioids along with other powerful narcotics,” said Jacob D. Galvan, Acting Special Agent in Charge, DEA Seattle Field Division. “This lengthy sentence emphasizes the seriousness of Ms. Spayd’s actions and should be seen as deterrent to those who aim to bring harm to our communities.”
In imposing the sentence, Judge Kindred emphasized the trust that society places in medical practitioners like Spayd and remarked that “when [practitioners] fail in their responsibilities, [they] can do far greater harm than the drug dealer on the street corner.” He also acknowledged that Spayd “knew she was in effect killing people, and she just kept doing it,” for nearly two decades.
“This is the deadliest drug case in this district’s history. And disturbingly, the five deaths the Defendant was convicted of at trial are just the tip of the iceberg” because “Spayd may have caused or contributed to the deaths of dozens: 20 total confirmed drug overdoses and many others suspected. She was a serial killer with a ‘poison pen,’” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan D. Tansey wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed with the court. “[H]er conduct was far more insidious” than that of a street level dealer “because she sanctioned (and supplied) lethal levels of drugs for her patients, day after day, year after year, under the shroud of a prescribing license, assuring them that it was safe and necessary. In the process, she abused her authority and violated her oath as a medical professional, prescribing higher doses per patient than any other prescriber in Alaska during the charging period.”
“Medical practitioners who abuse their positions of trust by supplying millions of opioids for no legitimate medical purpose wreak havoc on our community,” said U.S. Attorney S. Lane Tucker. “Let this sentence send a clear message to any other medical practitioners considering similar conduct in Alaska: our office and law enforcement partners will work tirelessly to investigate and prosecute these cases, and you will be punished severely.”
“Spayd callously abused her dispensing authority, while fueling the opioid epidemic and poisoning our communities in the process,” said Special Agent in Charge Antony Jung of the FBI Anchorage Field Office. “This investigation and subsequent prosecution was about seeking justice for the victims and their families, and holding Spayd accountable for her destructive and lethal crimes. With Spayd’s abuse linked to a significant loss of life, this sentence will undoubtedly have a direct public safety impact on our community.”
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ryan Tansey and Michael Heyman prosecuted the case.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducted the investigation leading to the charges in this case, with invaluable assistance from members of the North Slope Borough Police Department, the Alaska Health Care Fraud Task Force, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of the Inspector General, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Office of Law Enforcement and Security, Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Alaska State Parks Rangers, Alaska State Troopers, Anchorage Police Department, Alaska Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, and the State of Alaska Division of Insurance.
The Alaska Health Care Fraud Task Force (AHCFTF) is a partnership of local, state, federal, and private agencies focused on the investigation of health care fraud, waste, and abuse in Alaska or affecting Alaskan interests. For more information: https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices/anchorage/alaska-health-care-fraud-task-force