- Associated Press - Thursday, July 21, 2016

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A federal judge is allowing a doctor who pleaded guilty to a drug-trafficking conspiracy charge for his role in operating a Maryville pill mill to continue practicing medicine while he awaits sentencing.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports (https://bit.ly/29NTBSI) that James Brian Joyner lost his medical license in Tennessee but continues to practice in Virginia under what the judge deemed exceptional circumstances.

Federal law mandates that convicted drug traffickers are jailed pending sentencing. But Pioneer Hospital in Patrick County, Virginia, asked that Joyner remain free. He has been working there as the sole emergency room physician. He is allowed to prescribe medication, but is supervised by two other doctors.

Prosecutors argued against letting Joyner remain free and last month asked the judge to reconsider. On Tuesday, the judge reaffirmed her decision.

“It is in some way surprising to me that Virginia does allow you to continue practicing medicine, but I am very familiar with those rural areas of Virginia, so I know that there is a problem for these counties to find people who will practice medicine in those small areas,” U.S. District Judge Pamela Reeves said.

Joyner was paid as much as $1,300 a day to serve as a supervising physician at a Maryville pain clinic that had no medical equipment and traded cash for prescriptions for painkillers.

His plea agreement says he prescribed painkillers to more than 500 patients at the now defunct Breakthrough Pain Therapy Center in Maryville in three months in 2010. He also vouched for other medical professionals at the clinic who wrote prescriptions for hundreds more patients.

Joyner surrendered his Tennessee medical license after Breakthrough was raided and shut down and its owners were sent to prison. Joyner is one of eight medical professionals who have pleaded guilty to drug-trafficking conspiracy charges in the Breakthrough case.

Joyner’s defense attorney, John Eldridge, convinced Reeves to allow Joyner to go free pending sentencing in November by arguing Joyner was being supervised by two physicians and Pioneer Hospital would be forced to close its emergency room without him.

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Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel, https://www.knoxnews.com

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