HARRISBURG — Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced criminal charges against a Centre County orthopedic surgeon who wrote 63 prescriptions for opioid pain medications and other drugs to a woman who was not his patient, but with whom he was having an affair.
Dr. Kenneth L. Cherry, 58, of Balmoral Circle, State College, surrendered to authorities today in State College to face felony charges of prescribing a controlled substance by a practitioner not in good faith within the scope of his practice, and misdemeanor charges of failing to keep records of the distribution of controlled substances.
“The illegal diversion of prescription drugs is a serious, growing problem in our Commonwealth,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “Whether it’s people stealing a prescription pad to obtain opioids, a pharmacy aide stealing 30,000 prescription pills, or a doctor unlawfully writing prescriptions for someone who isn’t his patient, if you divert prescription drugs, we’re going to prosecute you.”
The Centre County investigation began in May 2016 after CVS Pharmacy in State College alerted the Office of Attorney General’s Bureau of Narcotics Investigation of large amounts of controlled substances being written for Mary Amendola by Dr. Cherry, affiliated with University Orthopedics Center in State College. From November 2014 through May 2016, Dr. Cherry wrote 63 prescriptions for Amendola for Oxycodone, Percocet, Fentanyl, Adderall, Xanax and Ativan.
Studies show that 75 percent of heroin users began their drug abuse by abusing prescription opioids. Oxycodone and Percocet are opioid pain medications. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. In 2017, Office of Attorney General agents have charged 96 persons with illegally diverting prescription drugs – including 4 people in Harrisburg this week for using a doctor’s prescription pad to fraudulently obtain 3,000 Oxycodone pills, and a Schuylkill County pharmacy aide today for stealing 30,000 prescription pills.
Investigators determined that while Amendola had once been a patient of University Orthopedics Center, she was never a patient of Dr. Cherry. The orthopedics center had no records of any patient visits or prescriptions for Amendola with Dr. Cherry.
When investigators first spoke with Dr. Cherry, he said he knew Amendola and met with her privately, writing prescriptions for her – but not documenting any prescription because she had no insurance.
When investigators met with Amendola, however, she indicated she had a “personal/sexual relationship” with Dr. Cherry, and the doctor would write her prescriptions for pain medications and leave them in his unlocked car or truck for her to pick up. She also said she had insurance and used it to pay for the prescriptions.
Office of Attorney General agents met subsequently with Dr. Cherry, who acknowledged the affair with Amendola. The doctor said he believed he was doing “a good deed” by prescribing a high volume of opioid pain pills for Amendola over an 18-month period.
“I want to commend the CVS pharmacy in State College for coming forward with information about this case,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “Everyone can and should play a role in helping us end the illegal practice of diverting prescription drugs from their intended use.”
Dr. Cherry was preliminarily arraigned today before Centre County District Judge Thomas N. Jordan in Centre Hall. Bail was set at $20,000 unsecured. A preliminary hearing will be held July 19. The case will be prosecuted by Acting Chief Deputy Attorney General Patrick Leonard of the Office of Attorney General Drug Strike Force Section.
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