Elizabeth Reimers clutched a wadded tissue in one hand and held on to her husband before pleading guilty Wednesday to prescribing pain medication that contributed to the deaths of three former patients.
The 40-year-old former doctor and Winchester, Tenn., resident was charged with 130 federal counts, including dispensing a controlled substance.
On Wednesday, Reimers accepted a plea deal to three counts of dispensing a controlled substance, resulting in a 70-month sentence followed by two years of supervised probation. She must report to prison by April 13.
Reimers declined to make a statement before sentencing and did not speak to media as she left the federal building in Chattanooga.
Reimers voluntarily surrendered her physician's license four years ago. She was charged after an employee tipped off law enforcement and an investigation was conducted. An undercover agent had Reimers prescribe high doses of pain medication for himself and a brother whom Reimers never examined.
Authorities reviewed nine autopsies of Reimers' former patients and stated that she contributed to deaths in three cases.
Attorneys on both sides said this was not a typical "pill mill" case, in which doctors see as many as 60 to 80 patients per day and dole out pain medication to make a profit.
"Why not? It certainly looks like one," U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice Jr. asked the attorneys before accepting the agreement.
They responded that Reimers had a hard time saying no to addicts who asked for more medication. She didn't profit outside of her normal doctor's fees, both attorneys said.
Her attorney, Jerry Summers, said she most likely overprescribed pain medicines because she empathized with patients who told sad stories.
"She was a person who would have been a better nurse than a doctor. ... She was a caring physician who went over the line," Summers said.
Patients went to Reimers to feed an addiction, prosecutor John P. MacCoon said.
"The reason they went there was not for the treatment of a condition. They were addicts," MacCoon said.
Prosecutors accepted a plea deal because it would have been difficult to prove Reimers' prescribed medications actually caused death.
MacCoon said the families of the three patients who died were consulted before the plea deal was accepted.