The former CEO and Emergency Room Director of Union General Hospital along with a Blairsville doctor have been indicted for illegally prescribing and obtaining thousands of doses of prescription pain medications.
The indictments against John Michael Gowder, 60, Dr. David Gowder, 61, and Dr. James Heaton, 61, were announced Friday by U.S. Attorney BJay Pak. All three men are from Blairsville.
"These defendants allegedly abused their positions as medical professionals to obtain illegitimately thousands of doses of prescription pain medications and now face serious federal charges,” said Pak in a press statement. “The Department of Justice is committed to fighting the opioid epidemic through the aggressive investigation and prosecution of licensed medical practitioners who abuse their positions of trust to engage in illegal conduct.”
The three are set to appear in federal court in Gainesville for arraignment on Monday, April 9.
Information from the indictment said from 2011 to 2015 John Michael "Mike" Gowder was the Chief Executive Officer of Union General Hospital in Blairsville, Dr. David Gowder was the Emergency Room Director at Union General and Dr. James Heaton operated a family practice clinic in Blairsville.
The indictment said Mike Gowder and Dr. David Gowder allegedly conspired to illegally obtain oxycodone, hydrocodone and alprazolam. Dr. David Gowder unlawfully obtained the controlled substances from patients that he treated at the hospital. He also illegally issued prescriptions for oxycodone, hydrocodone and alprazolam in the names of his and Mike Gowder’s family members, existing hospital patients and fictitious patients.
In addition, Dr. David Gowder would direct Union General Hospital employees to fill the prescriptions at local pharmacies. He would provide cash to the employees to pay for the drugs and would direct the employees to return the drugs they obtained to him. Mike Gowder used his position as the chief administrator at Union General Hospital to fire hospital employees who tried to expose Dr. David Gowder’s illegal prescribing and obtaining of the drugs. He also used his position to intimidate other employees into concealing Dr. David Gowder’s unlawful acquisition of controlled substances, according to the indictment.
The document said between April 2013 and April 2015, Dr. David Gowder issued at least 19 illegal prescriptions for oxycodone pills, 21 illegal prescriptions for hydrocodone pills and five illegal prescriptions for alprazolam pills, including by forging the names of other physicians.
Dr. Heaton illegally prescribed oxycodone and other controlled substances to Mike Gowder, Mike Gowder’s family members, and others, according to the indictment.
Also, Mike Gowder obtained oxycodone by filling the illegal prescriptions that Dr. Heaton issued for oxycodone at different pharmacies in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina in an effort to conceal the large numbers of oxycodone pills that Dr. Heaton was prescribing to him.
The evidence showed between May 1, 2013 and June 16, 2015, Dr. Heaton wrote at least 74 illegal prescriptions for oxycodone to Mike Gowder. In addition to filling the prescriptions at pharmacies in Georgia, Mike Gowder often traveled to North Carolina and Tennessee to fill multiple prescriptions a month at pharmacies in those states. On multiple occasions, Dr. Heaton wrote two prescriptions for oxycodone for Mike Gowder on the same day. On other occasions, Mike Gowder would travel to North Carolina to fill one prescription and Tennessee to fill the second prescription to conceal the fact that multiple prescriptions were written to him on the same day.