Florida doctor pleads guilty to fraud to acquire controlled substances

Northwest Florida

FILE – This Aug. 29, 2018, file photo shows an arrangement of prescription oxycodone pills in New York. U.S. health officials are again warning doctors against abandoning chronic pain patients by abruptly stopping their opioid prescriptions. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services instead urged doctors Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, to share such decisions with patients. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

SANTA ROSA COUNTY, Fla. (WKRG) — Michael T. Harris of Gulf Breeze, Florida, entered a guilty plea Friday to charges of acquiring controlled substances by fraud, and using a means of identification of another person in connection to the offense of acquiring controlled substances by fraud.

Documents introduced at the time of the guilty plea allege that between November 4, 2015, and August 11, 2016, on at least 24 separate occasions, Harris presented fraudulent prescriptions to various pharmacies in the Santa Rosa County area to obtain methadone, morphine sulfate, oxycodone, and alprazolam. During that time, Harris worked as a physician at a medical facility in Gulf Breeze and shared office space with other physicians.

Harris is accused of forging another physician’s signature or using the physician’s pre-signed prescriptions without the physician’s authorization. Each time, Harris reportedly used a means of identification of the physician without the physician’s authorization, namely, the physician’s specifically assigned Drug Enforcement Administration Registration number, to acquire methadone, morphine sulfate, oxycodone, and alprazolam. In total, between the above-mentioned dates, Harris used fraudulent prescriptions to acquire approximately 1622 methadone pills, approximately 570 morphine sulfate pills, approximately 120 oxycodone pills, and approximately 40 alprazolam pills using fraudulent prescriptions, according to the United States Attorney’s Office.

Harris faces up to four years in prison for the charge of acquiring controlled substances by fraud, and up to twenty years for using a means of identification of another person in connection to the offense of acquiring controlled substances by fraud. Harris is scheduled to be sentenced on April 14, 2020.

U.S. Attorney Lawrence Keefe said, “Society places a large measure of trust in the hands of licensed physicians, and it’s profoundly disturbing when a respected professional abuses that trust to illegally obtain controlled substances. In addition, this doctor’s actions undermined the trust placed in him by his fellow physicians, pharmacists, and others in the medical profession.”

This case resulted from an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office, and the Gulf Breeze Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney J. Ryan Love is prosecuting the case.

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