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If you drive northeast of Memphis for about six hours, you will come to Clay County. Though there are only approximately 8,000 residents in the small county, it has the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of opioids dispensed per capita than anywhere else in Tennessee.

A 65-year-old family doctor there was recently arrested on drug charges for allegedly violating the Controlled Substances Act by prescribing Schedule II and Schedule IV drugs. Prosecutors say the doctor overprescribed opiates and benzodiazepines for no legitimate medical purpose to people he knew were abusing the drugs.

If convicted on all charges, Dr. Gilbert Ghearing could be sentenced to up to 20 years in a federal prison, as well as a $1 million fine, the Tennessean reported.

Prosecutors claim that his illegal prescriptions were written between August of 2016 and February of this year.

Two days before his arrest by federal agents at his office in Celina, he had reportedly purchased a one-way ticket to the Marshall Islands. The Pacific Ocean islands are about 6,500 miles from his home.

Prosecutors say that the Ghearing continued to prescribe benzodiazepines and opioids to one patient even after the patient overdosed and his mother contacted the doctor to tell him her son was abusing the prescriptions.

Brand-name benzodiazepines include Valium, Klonopin and Xanax, among others.

The combination of benzodiazepines and opioids is a dangerous one, experts say, with nearly a third of all overdoses involving a mixture of the two.

A Celina pharmacist who worked at the pharmacy next door to Ghearing’s practice was indicted for nearly two dozen alleged violations of the Controlled Substances Act two weeks before the doctor’s arrest.

Those facing these kinds of serious allegations should speak with a Memphis lawyer experienced in drug crime defense.