CATOOSA COUNTY, Ga. - Police shut down a prescription weight-loss clinic in Catoosa County Tuesday after its doctor was arrested for illegally giving out pain pills from the office.
Dr. Norman Neal, of Cleveland, Tenn., was charged with writing at least 29 blank prescriptions for medications such as hydrocodone after local and federal police raided Doctor's Health Center on Cloud Springs Road, said Catoosa County Sheriff Phil Summers.
Neal, a former Bradley County medical examiner, also had his medical license revoked by the state, pending the investigation, Summers said.
Originally, Neal was charged with 10 counts of signing blank prescriptions, but police found prescription pills in his car and evidence in the clinic to charge him with 19 more counts, Summers said. Federal charges could also follow since U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials are also involved in the investigation, he said.
After the arrest, authorities closed the clinic until they can investigate if other employees were involved in the operation, Summers said. But after interviewing employees Tuesday, authorities weren't suspicious of anyone, he said.
The front door to the clinic was locked Tuesday afternoon, but as patients knocked on the door, an employee would tell them - through the closed door - to come back next week.
Employees quickly shut the door when the Times Free Press asked to speak with Michelle Turitto who, according to Georgia Secretary of State records, has owned the clinic since 2007.
After Neal was arrested Tuesday, employees from other businesses in the shopping center, located near Interstate 75, said they aren't surprised.
"I've had to park out back in the evenings," said Brandi Dean, a South Cleaners employee, located two doors down from the clinic.
The parking lot fills up at least once a week with clinic patients and teenagers loiter in the lot, Dean said. The problem has gotten so bad, South Cleaners employees put signs in the cleaner's parking spaces to keep them open for customers, she said.
Detectives began a two-month undercover investigation that led to Neal's arrest after family members of patients at the clinic complained to police, Summers said.
When Neal was arrested, he was carrying a gun and a badge that showed he was the Bradley County medical examiner, Summers said. Bradley County officials said Neal was a contract medical examiner for the county from December 2006 to September 2007.
Neal was let go in September, but Dan Howell, spokesman for Bradley Mayor D. Gary Davis, declined to elaborate on why the contract was terminated. Howell said Neal's badge should have been turned in when the contract ended.
While Summers said this is the first arrest for a doctor illegally prescribing pills in Catoosa County, prescription pill abuse is becoming the worse drug in the area to fight.
"Our No. 1 drug problem is illegal drug medication," Summers said. "This is an epidemic situation."
As prescription drug abuse - also known as doctor shopping - continues to rise in Georgia, state and federal authorities are stepping up public awareness. Multiple agencies, including the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency and Georgia Bureau of Investigation, are hosting a one-day summit in Atlanta today to alert the public.
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6659.