‘Drug dealer in a white coat’, doctor sent to prison for illegal prescription of opioids
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – A former Grand Rapids doctor has been branded a “white coat drug dealer” for prescribing street opioids.
Dr Richard Samuel Piazza, 63, has pleaded guilty to three counts of illegally writing prescriptions for controlled substances such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, two of the drugs causing the opioid crisis in the country.
On Tuesday January 12, U.S. District Judge Janet Neff sentenced Piazza to nearly six years in prison, followed by three years on probation.
Piazza felt remorse and said he had thrown a “gift from God”. He was known to many as a compassionate doctor who cared about his patients.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Clay Stiffler has said doctors play a vital role in society, with people putting their lives in their hands.
“With that confidence comes responsibility, as embodied in the Hippocratic Oath: ‘First, do no harm’. Dr Richard Piazza violated this oath in the worst possible way by becoming a drug dealer in a white coat, ”he wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
“He led a hectic, methamphetamine-fueled lifestyle that consisted of walking into the homes of drug users, crashing into their couches and setting up his laptop to print out illegal prescriptions for over 6,500 pills. hydrocodone, over 2,600 oxycodone pills and over 2,800 alprazolam (Xanax) pills, in exchange for cash, part of the pills or other drugs, ”Stiffler wrote.
He said Piazza was not treated by the law any differently from a drug dealer around the corner but was “worse than a street trafficker because he had fewer excuses for his crimes than he did. ‘a street trafficker, and his status as a “ doctor’ ‘imbued his actions with a false facade of legitimacy.
He called Piazaa “the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing”.
He wondered why Piazza even had a license to practice medicine in Michigan. He has already faced sanctions in three other states, court records show.
In 2008, he obtained a license in Michigan to prescribe drugs.
The illegal prescriptions were written outside of her work at the Society of Healing Arts Institutes, an office of holistic healing that also provides medical marijuana certification.
Sean Tilton, a deputy federal public defender, said Piazza, a U.S. Navy veteran, had serious untreated mental health issues. He was depressed by his wife’s death in 2017 and blamed himself for working several hours away when she suffered an asthma attack.
Once he tried methamphetamine, he became addicted. This led him to write illegal prescriptions to buy drugs.
“When he was high, instead of being depressed about his wife, Dr Piazza thought about their good times together. He believed that methamphetamine allowed him to relive the experiences they had had together, ”Tilton wrote.
Piazza believes his drug use would have killed him had he not been arrested, the lawyer wrote. A court-ordered assessment in 2019 showed Piazza’s mental health significantly affected her ability to help with her criminal defense. The court then ordered his hospitalization to determine whether he was fit to stand trial.
“I can’t believe I took a God-given license to practice medicine and threw it away like it didn’t make sense,” Piazza wrote in a letter to the judge.
“I have embarrassed my profession, my family, my friends, my patients and myself.”
He said he had not been drinking or using drugs since November 2018. Piazza remains optimistic and hopes to help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction.
“I never imagined that PTSD could be so devastating, until I lost my wife,” he wrote in the letter.
The judge said Piazza could report to jail under the direction of the US Bureau of Prisons or the US Marshals Service.