WAYCROSS, Ga. - A former south Georgia doctor pleaded guilty to federal drug charges Tuesday and acknowledged he had dispensed a variety of narcotic prescription drugs to people who traveled long distances to his clinic to obtain the drugs without a medical reason.
William Morris Williams, 71, of Alma, pleaded guilty to two counts of illegally dispensing promethazine/codeine syrup, a controlled substance, on Nov. 10-11, 2009, to a person identified only by initials in court documents.
Williams, who surrendered his medical license last month, also admitted to U.S. Magistrate James Graham that a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigation was correct in finding that his office and family practice clinic was essentially a "pill mill."
Looking Graham in the eyes, Williams replied "Yes, sir," when asked if he was guilty of providing the cough syrup. Williams also answered "Yes, sir" when Graham asked if he also provided controlled substances to people without a legitimate medical reason.
The cough syrup is a combination antihistamine and cough suppressant that can cause severe breathing problems in children, especially those 6 and younger. It is the key ingredient in "purple drank," an illegal recreational drink made with a mixture of lemon-lime soda or hard fruit-flavored candy. It produces a sense of euphoria in people.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Karl Knoche summarized the investigation for the court.
It began when agents learned a patient was in the parking lot of Williams' office selling drugs he had obtained earlier from Williams.
Williams operated Total Health Services, a family medical practice and urgent care clinic at 204 S. Dixon St. in Alma.
"Many of Dr. Williams' patients traveled long distances to see him and obtain controlled substances from him outside the scope of legitimate medical practice," Knoche said.
Knoche didn't identify the narcotics by commercial or generic brand names. He instead cited the section of federal law governing prescription painkillers, tranquilizers and other narcotics, when he told the court how Williams violated federal drug laws.
"Many of the patients have criminal records for violations of controlled substances," he told Graham.
Williams had been licensed to practice medicine in Georgia since 1965. In exchange for his guilty pleas, the government agreed it won't object if Williams receives a reduced sentence.
Illegal dispensing is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine up to $100,000 on each count.
Graham allowed Williams to remain free on $25,000 bail until his sentencing.
teresa.stepzinski @jacksonville.com, (912) 264-0405