A three-year local, state and federal investigation launched in connection with "a number" of overdose deaths has led authorities to seize records at Tennessee medical clinics in Franklin and Coffee counties, Franklin County Sheriff Tim Fuller said.
No arrests have been made, Fuller said, but search warrants were issued for records at clinics he says are owned and operated by Dr. Councill Courtland Rudolph. He operates clinics in Decherd in Franklin County and in Manchester in neighboring Coffee County.
Fuller said the searches were conducted by agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and local authorities in the counties where Rudolph's clinics operate.
Fuller said authorities are scrutinizing prescriptions written by Rudolph over the last three years.
"The allegations are pretty simple; it's over-prescribing," Fuller said. "At some point a case will be presented to a federal grand jury."
Rudolph is the owner, operator and physician at the Quick Care clinic near Bible Crossing Road in Decherd, Tenn., and another clinic in Manchester, Fuller said.
Rudolph on Tuesday said he's done nothing wrong and that he refused to surrender his license to prescribe when federal authorities showed up on April 15 at his home in Winchester and then raided his offices.
He said he remembered one of the agents visiting his office as a "patient" on two occasions. Rudolph also said he was accused of writing prescriptions to patients that agents said he knew were selling their medicines.
He said he told agents that he was aware that overdoses "can happen," but that he has his patients sign a contract promising to keep their medication to themselves, use it as prescribed and submit to drug screenings and pill counts to try to ensure there is no abuse.
Rudolph said he has never over-prescribed to any of the 2,500 patients he treats at the two clinics. He said he dismisses patients who test positive for illegal drugs.
"I'm following the darn rules. I don't think I've done anything wrong," he said. "They're on a fishing expedition."
He said agents took 35 patient charts that he said he has no way to assure have not been altered to be used against him.
Rudolph said other pain management physicians stand to face the same situation under the DEA's scrutiny based on new rules that limit the amount of controlled substances -- including narcotic pain medications -- that pharmacists can fill to about 20 percent of the total number of prescriptions they accept.
Those restrictions have a great impact on small rural communities because of the smaller number of patients in proportion to the overall number of prescriptions filled, he said. He said only one local pharmacy can fill prescriptions for his patients now.
"This is a patient care issue," Rudolph said. "We are not criminals."
Rudolph said he will fight the changes in rules and the allegations.
Brad Byerley, the resident agent in charge of the DEA's Chattanooga office, confirmed that the searches were done April 15 and that Rudolph "is being prosecuted federally."
"It's an ongoing federal investigation. We can't really go into anything on the case," Byerley said.
Fuller said the signs pointed to Rudolph's clinics.
"When you start having people overdose and die and you start having a bunch to overdose and die and it all has one common denominator and you've got a pain clinic or quick care that's open just about around the clock and the parking lot is full of people from outside the area and even the state of Tennessee and it's gotten to the point that no pharmacist but one will fill his prescription, there's your sign," he said.
The sheriff said there have been some cases in Franklin County of patients selling prescription medications acquired through Rudolph's clinics.
Fuller wouldn't give a specific number of overdose deaths because "it is a pretty significant part of this case," he said.
He said the investigation involves "mainly narcotic pain medications."
Tennessee Department of Health records do not show any actions taken against Rudolph related to over-prescribing medication, but they do list other action.
Rudolph was accused at Southern Tennessee Medical Center of "making a derogatory statement about another physician in front of [a] patient causing the patient to lose confidence in the other physician" and was accused of "operating on a patient who had been refused surgery at a tertiary care center," records state. He was summarily suspended and permanently lost his privileges there.
At United Regional Medical Center, Rudolph "moved a patient's procedure from United Regional Medical Center to the Medical Center of Manchester because the [operating room] was full that morning. The physician leader at URMC did not agree with the change," records state. Rudolph was summarily suspended, then permanently suspended there.
A third summary suspension was listed at Harton Regional Medical Center, but do not explain exact reasons.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569.
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...