A Sandy Springs resident has been convicted of prescribing opioid painkillers and other drugs under the guise of podiatric care.

Dr. Arnita Avery-Kelly, 56, a licensed podiatrist, has been found guilty on federal charges of illegally prescribing the drugs at clinics in Sandy Springs and Lithonia. In a May 9 news release, federal officials discussed the case.

“Avery-Kelly took an oath and was trusted to provide appropriate podiatric care to her patients,” U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said. “Instead, with the assistance of her office manager, she prescribed addictive opioids without any legitimate medical need, turning her prescription pad into an ATM. Her behavior fed into the continuing problem of addiction to powerful prescription opioids, which, unfortunately, continues to take a daily toll on many members of our community.”

Robert J. Murphy, the special agent in charge of the DEA Atlanta field division, said, “While in the midst of this country’s prescription opioid crisis, removing and ultimately eliminating physicians who recklessly overprescribe pharmaceutical pills (particularly prescribed opioids) for nonmedical reasons, is an important part of DEA’s mission. This pill-peddling podiatrist distributed large quantities of opiate-based pills to scores of drug-seeking patients. She will no longer be able to commit such unlawful acts because of the hard work and dedication put forth by DEA, its federal, state and local law enforcement partners and the U.S. attorney’s office.”

Derrick L. Jackson, special agent-in-charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, office of inspector general in Atlanta, said, “Dr. Avery-Kelly abused her position as a podiatrist and recklessly prescribed very powerful and addictive opioids without any regard for the devastating effects they would have. HHS-OIG is committed to bringing to justice, those medical practitioners who would endanger our communities, taint their profession and abuse their ability to prescribe these drugs for profit.”

According to Pak, the charges and other information presented in court: Avery-Kelly was a licensed podiatrist, which means she was permitted to evaluate and treat the foot and leg. A nearly three-year federal investigation began when the Georgia Drug & Narcotics Agency agents contacted Avery-Kelly in November 2013, and again in February 2014, to discuss the high volume, high dosage prescriptions she had written for opioids. Despite the agency’s warnings, as well as a subsequent inquiry by the Georgia Podiatry Board, Avery-Kelly, with the assistance of Office Manager Brenda Lewis, continued to prescribe large volumes of controlled substances without a legitimate medical need and outside the scope of podiatric practice.

After these visits, the agency worked with the DEA and the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct the investigation, which culminated in this jury trial.

After being suspended from submitting claims through Medicare, Avery-Kelly began prescribing opioids and benzodiazepines to addicts and drug traffickers posing as patients at her podiatric clinics. During the time her clinics were open, Avery-Kelly prescribed over 275,000 30mg oxycodone pills, along with 104,000 8mg hydromorphone pills, and 300 fentanyl patches to patients who were either addicted to these substances or selling them on the streets. The average price for a single Oxycodone 30mg pill was about $30.

In April 2016, DEA and HHS agents executed a federal search warrant at Avery-Kelly’s office in Sandy Springs, effectively shutting down her clinics. At that time, she also voluntarily surrendered her DEA registration, which permitted her to prescribe controlled substances. After five days of hearing evidence and two days of deliberation, a jury found Avery-Kelly guilty of 27 counts of distributing these highly addictive opioids, without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the scope of professional practice. Avery-Kelly’s sentencing is scheduled for July 24 at 10 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Eleanor L. Ross. She was indicted along with Lewis Dec. 21, 2016.

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