ATLANTA – Dr. Joseph Burton, a former county medical examiner and forensic pathologist, has been indicted along with seven other individuals on charges of illegal distribution of opioid painkillers and other drugs.
The indictments were announced Thursday afternoon as part of Operation SCOPE (Strategically Combatting Opioids through Prosecution and Enforcement).
“Burton traded away his responsibility as a licensed doctor and respected pathologist by allegedly writing unnecessary prescriptions in exchange for sex and romantic companionship,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “His associates sought to profit by having those prescriptions filled, and then selling those drugs which included opioid painkillers like oxycodone."
Federal agents began investigating Burton, a licensed physician, after the Georgia Drug & Narcotics Agency visited him in early 2017 and discovered that he was prescribing painkillers to patients despite not operating a medical clinic or seeing patients.
Prosecutors said Burton, over a two-year period beginning in July 2015, issued more than 1,100 opioid prescriptions, which amounted to over 108,000 individuals doses, including more than 66,000 30mg oxycodone pills.
The indictment alleges Burton prescribed opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone in exchange for sexual favors and romantic affection.
For example, the indictment alleges Burton prescribed opioids to individuals without thoroughly examining them, and on occasion, without ever meeting them at all.
According to the indictment, codefendants Jennifer Hunter, Rhonda Haugland, and Tiffany Willis each engaged in a romantic relationship with Burton in exchange for prescriptions in their names as well as the names of others. As part of the conspiracy, Hunter, Haugland, and Willis would fill their prescriptions and sell the pills, and then obtain more prescriptions from Burton for other people, who paid them for getting the prescriptions.
Burton and the other individuals are charged with conspiring to distribute and dispense controlled substances. Burton is also charged with 10 counts of illegal drug distribution for specific prescriptions.
Six of Burton’s alleged conspirators were also charged in several of these counts. Burton was previously arrested on October 11, 2017, on a federal criminal complaint and indicted on a narrower set of charges.