Woodbridge physician pleads guilty to operating opioid pill mill

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After his nurse practitioner and co-conspirator pleaded guilty in September, a former physician in Woodbridge pleaded guilty Wednesday to operating a pill mill that illegally distributed more than 600,000 oxycodone pills.

Shriharsh Laxman Pole, 65, voluntarily surrendered his medical license twice — in 2009 and 2013 — then turned around and founded Excel Medical Clinic, a pain management center, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“In both instances, Pole admitted to creating a substantial risk to public health by engaging in wrongful prescribing practices for opiates, including oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, and hydromorphone,” the Justice Department said. After giving up his license, Pole “enlisted the aid of nurse-practitioner and co-conspirator,” Janelle Hibson, 63, of Fredericksburg, who pre-signed prescriptions that Pole later filled out and distributed, prosecutors said.

There, he filled opioid prescriptions for patients who often received no physical or diagnostic examination, distributing more than 600,000 pills between 2013 and 2015.

Addiction to prescription opioids continues to be a scourge on Virginia and the rest of the country, as authorities attempt to rein in doctors filling excessive prescriptions. All too often, those who become addicted to the painkillers turn to heroin, an illicit opioid.

So far in Virginia this year, there have been over 500 deaths related to opioids.

Pole is due to be sentenced in March and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.