- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - A former physician’s assistant who prosecutors said prescribed large amounts of narcotic painkillers to people she knew or believed were addicts or dealers was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in federal prison.

Kelly R. Etzel of Lolo was sentenced on March 6 by U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen in Missoula.

Between 2006 and 2012, Etzel prescribed controlled substances to patients “without exercising due diligence to ascertain the true nature of their purported maladies,” the U.S. attorney’s office wrote in its sentencing memorandum.

Etzel, 52, was indicted in August on 11 counts of distribution of controlled substances. She pleaded guilty to two counts in December.

Prosecutors said she prescribed hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine and hydromorphone to patients at her First Choice Clinic in Missoula without proper medical exams.

She was accused of prescribing narcotics to one patient in exchange for construction plans for a new clinic and to patients who acknowledged they were addicts.

Prosecutors said Etzel wrote prescriptions to fictitious names and gave them to an undercover officer she believed intended to sell the drugs.

“Moreover, Etzel encouraged the officer to take one of her prescription pads and discussed ways that he could avoid being caught,” prosecutors wrote.

Etzel’s privileges to prescribe controlled substances were suspended in mid-November. However, on Jan. 8, the Drug Enforcement Administration received a report from the Montana Prescription Drug Registry that said she issued 85 prescriptions after she surrendered her DEA registration, prosecutors wrote.

“Ultimately, the defendant’s conduct demonstrates a disregard for the safety of both the patients who visited her and the community as a whole,” prosecutors wrote in the sentencing memo that sought the 30-month sentence followed by three years of supervised release.

Defense attorney Paul Ryan asked that Etzel be sentenced to home confinement so she could continue to care for her developmentally delayed son and her father, who has terminal cancer.

Etzel’s crimes were not motivated by monetary gain, Ryan wrote in his sentencing recommendation. He argued, “Etzel prescribed the controlled substances believing it was the best treatment option for the patient.”

Ryan also said Etzel had been punished enough with the loss of her physician assistant certification and her business and had been forced to file for bankruptcy. He added that her age and inability to further prescribe medication make her exceedingly unlikely to reoffend.

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