5 days: New Castle former nurse sentenced in federal drug conspiracy

Debra Kay Shaffer’s involvement in a white-collar drug conspiracy earned her less than a week of jailtime.

Under a plea bargain, Shaffer, a 71-year-old New Castle woman, pled guilty to one count of using the DEA Registration number of another for prescribing substances.

An XDEA number is a unique identifier assigned to a medical provider who is approved to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid addition.

In court documents, Shaffer admitted that while she was working as a nurse practitioner for L5 Medical, which operated a chain of pain clinics, she would use the XDEA number of doctors associated the clinics to write prescriptions for Suboxone under their name.

She “regularly” saw opioid addiction patients and doled out prescriptions on days when no one authorized to write prescriptions was working in the clinic.

Even with an XDEA number, medical professionals can only write Suboxone prescriptions for a certain number of patients. That number is referred to as the doctor’s Suboxone slots.

Shaffer admitted that her and others involved in this conspiracy would sometimes prescribe Suboxone and characterize it as pain treatment to avoid the limitation of Suboxone slots or to avoid needing to use a slot at all.

“Shaffer was an important part of a years-long scheme to illegitimately distribute Suboxone by staff providers who lacked the training, experience, and legal authority to prescribe Suboxone (buprenorphine)…” said a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of VA.

And it added, “Some patients continued to receive controlled substance prescriptions even after showing obvious “red flags” of drug abuse, such as failing drug tests, taking unprescribed drugs, or having drug overdoses.

Before the plea bargain, in 2020, Shaffer was charged with prescribing oxycodone without a legitimate medical purpose. As, the Roanoke Times explains, that charge came after a patient Shaffer prescribed drugs to suffered a fatal overdose.

The indictment against Shaffer outlined indications the patient was abusing the drug, including taking more medication than what was prescribed and failing urine screens. Although charges related to the overdose weren’t pursued after the plea agreement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cagle Juhan mentioned it as an aggravating factor at sentencing, the Roanoke Times added.

Yet, Shaffer was only sentenced to 5 days in prison and 1 year of supervised release.

A document filed with the court this month shows list Shaffer and her husband’s assets at over $1 million. She was fined $5,000 in this case.

Under the plea agreement, she also agreed to forfeit her medical license and never practice again.

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