Six days of testimony in the federal trial of Williamsburg pharmacist Kim Jones wrapped up Tuesday when she took the stand in her own defense.
Jones was indicted in U.S. District Court in 2018 on 30 counts unlawful distribution of a controlled substance, specifically Oyxcodone and Oyxmorphone, five counts of dispensing Hydrocodone and Oxycodone not for a legitimate medical purpose, one count of opening and maintaining a place for the purpose of distributing controlled substances outside the scope of professional practice and not for legitimate medical purpose, and one count of healthcare fraud.
Jones testified that she knew the vast majority of her customers at Kim’s Hometown Pharmacy, including multiple individuals, who presented prescriptions from doctors in Florida, Georgia and Virginia to be filled, which are set out in the indictment.
“I don’t think I improperly filled anything,” Jones said.
Jones’ attorney, Ned Pillersdorf, questioned Jones about the 11 individuals named in the indictment as allegedly filling one or more of the prescriptions in question.
Jones testified that when a customer would bring in an out-of-state prescription, she would call the patient’s local doctor to ensure there was a legitimate reason that individual would require drugs that are typically given to cancer patients and those undergoing end of life care.
Jones noted that with doctors across Kentucky becoming less willing to prescribe pain medication such as Oyxcodone, patients were forced to seek treatment out of state.
In addition, Jones testified that some of her customers suffering with chronic pain were being notified that there was a six-month wait to see a doctor at area pain clinics in Kentucky.
“I know I acted in good faith,” Jones said of filling the out-of-state prescriptions for the customers in question.
Jones was questioned concerning five customers who lived with or near each other on Mustang Lane in Corbin and presented prescriptions for the same pain medications, which werewritten by the same doctors at the same out-of-state pain management clinics on the same day.
“I didn’t see it as being suspicious,” Jones said.
Pillersdorf asked Jones if she had ever declined to fill such a prescription, to which Jones said she had, particularly when she didn’t know the customer, or couldn’t verify by speaking with a doctor that there was a valid need.
Jones was then asked whether the pharmacy took part in the practice of “loaning” prescriptions to customers who had run out of a medication, or to another local pharmacy.
Jones testified that it is common for the independent pharmacies to help each other when one or the other does not have enough of a particular medicine to fill a prescription with the understanding that the pills would be replaced as soon as a delivery is received.
As to providing pills to a customer, Jones emphasized that she would never do so without a prescription, and only if something, such as insurance authorization or computer problems, left her a choice of loaning the pills or the customer going without.
“There are exceptions to every rule,” Jones said acknowledging that while it is illegal to do so, it would be detrimental to the patient not to do so.
“I never loaned any controlled substances without a prescription,” Jones added.
Under cross examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Smith asked Jones about a number of note texts recovered from the pharmacy’s computer system that described the loaning of medications, specifically controlled substances, to customers.
Smith noted that in multiple instances, the loans were done within a few weeks of the previous prescription being filled, or with no prescription presented later.
Jones said she didn’t know where those notes came from or how they were put into the computer, adding that at one point the pharmacy switched out computer systems.
Jones was asked about testimony earlier in the trial in which investigators noted a large number of empty prescription bottles found in boxes in the pharmacy, along with prescription bottles with the labels blacked out.
Jones explained that pharmacy employees regularly went through the “will-call” box where filled prescriptions were kept to purge it of those that had not been picked up by the customer.
The patient information was blacked out as required by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the pills placed back on the shelf.
As to weather, when such prescriptions were returned, the charges to insurance companies and/or Medicare/Medicaid were reversed, Jones said her employees were instructed to do so.
As part of the investigation, inspectors performed an audit of the pharmacy’s prescription pill inventory, including the number and amount of pills dispensed according to the computer system, and prescriptions billed to Medicare/Medicaid between 2014 and August 2017.
Paula York with the Kentucky Office Of Inspector General, and a licensed pharmacist, performed the audit.
In testifying for the United States, York said the audit revealed more than $400,000 worth of the top 500 most popular prescriptions were dispensed without purchase.
York explained that it means the pills were processed as being sold in the computer, but did not actually go out the door.
In her own testimony, Jones said there were several people who had worked at the pharmacy, including Gary P. McPherson, whom she believed may be stealing prescription pills.
Jones noted that it was she who attempted to contact the DEA, and did contact local police after video surveillance at the pharmacy showed McPherson taking pills.
McPherson was indicted just before Jones and was tried and convicted in January.
As of press time Tuesday, the jury had yet to begin deliberations.
The jurors are scheduled to return to U.S. District Court in London at 9:30 a.m. today to begin deliberations.
For further updates on the case, check online at www.thenewsjournal.net.