Former Nurse Sentenced to Federal Prison for Drug Conspiracy

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE – Kathryn Nikole Russell, 41, of Memphis, has been sentenced to 29 months in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute and dispense controlled substances. The defendant was charged in an April 2019 indictment as part of the first Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid (ARPO) Strike Force Takedown. D. Michael Dunavant, U.S. Attorney announced the sentence today.

According to information presented at sentencing, Russell was an advance practice registered nurse licensed by the State of Tennessee with a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Registration Number. Between March and April of 2018, Russell issued prescriptions for controlled substances, including the Schedule II controlled substances of Oxycodone and Hydrocodone, and the Schedule IV controlled substances Alprazolam and Clonazepam, at Dillon Russell Health Care Professionals, Inc. in Memphis, outside the usual scope of professional practice and without a legitimate medical purpose. The illegitimate prescriptions included issuing prescriptions for Schedule II drugs for friends and others with whom she had no medical relationship and without ever seeing the patients or conducting examinations, prescribing dangerous combinations of drugs, and failing to monitor patients for signs of addiction.

On April 16, 2019, Russell pleaded guilty to conspiracy to unlawfully distribute controlled substances. Russell wrote prescriptions for opioids and dangerous drug cocktails that had no legitimate medical purpose and that were outside the usual course of professional practice. In an eight-week period, Russell prescribed more than 7,800 oxycodone pills, more than 6,000 benzodiazepine pills, and more than 1,000 pills of carisoprodol.

On December 10, 2020, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas L. Parker sentenced Russell to 29 months in federal prison followed by three years supervised release. There is no parole in the federal system.

U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant said: “Opioid misuse and abuse is an insidious epidemic, created in large part by the over-prescribing and diversion of potent opioids. We will not stand by and allow the harmful and oftentimes deadly practice of over-prescribing and diversion of highly addictive drugs to continue unchecked. Along with our law enforcement partners, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will hold accountable any medical personnel who misuse their positions of trust to blatantly disregard and endanger others’ very lives for their own financial gain.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), along with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, investigated the case.

Trial Attorney Jillian Willis of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Dean DeCandia of the Western District of Tennessee prosecuted the case on behalf of the government.

The Fraud Section leads the ARPO Strike Force. Since its inception in October 2018, the ARPO Strike Force, which operates in 10 districts, has charged more than 70 defendants who are collectively responsible for distributing more than 50 million pills. The ARPO Strike Force is part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force Program, led by the Fraud Section. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 15 strike forces operating in 24 districts, has charged more than 4,200 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for approximately $19 billion. In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-Office of Inspector General, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.