CINCINNATI - A federal judge in Cincinnati has sentenced a doctor convicted in the overdose deaths of four patients and implicated in eight more deaths to four life sentences.
Dr. Paul Volkman maintains his innocence and after firing his attorneys has asked the judge to release him immediately. The government says Volkman's illegal prescriptions for painkillers cut a swath of misery across southern Ohio.
Volkman says his treatment of patients was consistent with the actions of a doctor, not a drug dealer.
The only appropriate sentence is "no further punishment beyond the ordeal to which V has already been subjected," Volkman, referring to himself as V, said in a 28-page handwritten filing submitted Monday after he fired his attorneys.
He said he kept a regular office, obtained patients' prior treatment records, performed physicals to verify their condition, and required patients to sign forms promising to take the medication as prescribed.
Volkman, 64, of Chicago, was also convicted of eight other distribution counts that prosecutors said resulted in fatal overdoses but did not leave enough evidence to convict him of the deaths.
Volkman declined to testify at a lengthy trial last spring that saw 70 government witnesses, including pharmacists, police investigators, clinic employees and patients who received pills from Volkman.
Federal prosecutors asked for the harshest penalty possible, saying Volkman's actions destroyed many lives.
U.S. District Court Judge Sandra Beckwith allowed Volkman to represent himself after he expressed "strong distrust and dissatisfaction" with his lawyers.
A 2007 indictment alleged Volkman went to work at the Tri-State Health Care and Pain Management clinic in southern Ohio in 2003. The clinic was operated by a mother and daughter who have since pleaded guilty to one count of operating Tri-State as a place whose primary purpose was the illegal distribution of prescription drugs.
Denise Huffman and her daughter, Alice Huffman Ball, testified against Volkman at trial. Huffman Ball was sentenced to five years in prison last year, while Denise Huffman was also scheduled for sentencing Tuesday.
The indictment said patients came from hundreds of miles away and were charged $125 to $200 in cash for visits to see a doctor.
Prosecutors said Volkman rarely, if ever, counseled patients on alternative treatments for pain, such as physical therapy, surgery or addiction counseling. Volkman denied the allegations and said he always acted in good faith.
The Drug Enforcement Administration has identified southern Ohio as one of the hardest hit spots in the country for painkiller abuse. Overdose deaths driven by prescription painkiller abuse are now the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio over car crashes.
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