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GetSmart About Drugs - A DEA Resource for Parents

News Release
August 9, 2005

Apalachicola, Florida Physician Indicted on Drug and Fraud Charges

AUG 9-- Mark R. Trouville, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Miami Field Division; Gregory R. Miller, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida; Charlie Crist, Florida Attorney General; Tom Gallagher, Chief Operating Officer, Florida Department of Financial Services; Guy Tunnell, Commissioner, Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE); Robert Cromwell, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation Jacksonville Division; Spencer Levine, Director, Florida Attorney General's Office Medicaid Fraud Unit (MFCU) and Mike Mock, Franklin County Sheriff, announced that a federal grand jury in the Northern District of Florida has returned an indictment charging Apalachicola osteopathic physician, Thomas G. Merrill, with wire fraud, health care fraud and distribution of controlled substances.

In a 100-count indictment, Merrill was charged with 18 counts of wire fraud; 6 counts of defrauding health care benefit programs, including 5 counts that charge that death resulted from the violation; 76 counts of dispensing or distributing controlled substances, to include oxycodone, morphine, hydrocodone, fentanyl, alprazolam and diazepam, including 4 counts that charge that death resulted from the use of the distributed drugs. Merrill, a licensed osteopathic physician practicing in Apalachicola, prescribed controlled substances to patients without performing a physical examination and without determining a sufficient medical necessity for the prescription of controlled substances. Merrill prescribed controlled substances in quantities and dosages that would cause patients to abuse and misuse the controlled substances. Merrill prescribed controlled substances to patients knowing that they were addicted to the controlled substances or misusing the controlled substances and wanted additional quantities for their drug habits. Merrill prescribed controlled substances to patients that resulted in the deaths of six, from the use of the prescribed controlled substances.

Merrill was arrested by federal and state agents on a federal warrant based on the charges in the indictment. If convicted on the counts charging the distribution of controlled substances with death resulting from the use of those controlled substances, Merrill faces a federal mandatory minimum term of 20 years imprisonment to maximum of life imprisonment.

Merrill's indictment and arrest are the result of a law enforcement initiative assembled in 2004 by Governor Jeb Bush, in conjunction with the DEA, and the United States Attorneys in the three Florida federal judicial districts, to target pharmaceutical drug-related crimes in Florida. The Diversion Response Teams (DRT) consist of agents and investigators from the DEA Miami Field Division, FDLE and MFCU. Additionally, law enforcement agencies involved in health care fraud task forces participate on an ad hoc basis in the DRTs. The DRTs are tasked with investigating state and federal violations of practitioners and providers which result in the fraudulent prescribing and dispensing of controlled substances. Since July 2004, the original four DRTs, located in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tallahassee, have expanded in 2005 to include Tampa, Fort Myers, Jacksonville and Pensacola.

DEA Miami Field Division Special Agent in Charge, Mark R. Trouville, stated "The indictment unsealed today shows that a doctor who illegally prescribes narcotics from the confines of his office can be prosecuted the same as a drug dealer selling narcotics from any street corner in America. Federal, state and local agencies working together made a difference today."

United States Attorney Gregory R. Miller commended the tireless efforts of investigators of the agencies involved in this complex investigation. Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist stated "Medical doctors take an oath to first do no harm. This indictment charges that Dr. Merrill provided dangerous drugs to patients who have no medical need for the drugs and, in some situations, contributed to the death of patients. Team work by all of the agencies involved has led to this critical arrest." FDLE Commissioner Guy Tunnell added "This indictment is the result of the hard work of many federal, state and local law enforcement officials over a period of a few years. We extend our thanks and appreciation to our law enforcement partners, and we pledge to work with them on equally difficult cases that will confront us in the future."

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