MCCREARY COUNTY, Ky. — The doctor accused of prescribing enough addictive medication for every man, woman, and child in McCreary County, Ky. to have more than 50 pills has reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors that will likely result in less than a year of prison time, leaving local leaders outraged.
The DEA accused Dr. David Bruce Coffey, of Oneida, Tenn., of prescribing 4.9 million addictive pills over eight years. He will plead guilty to prescribing 60 pills, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
"That’s just ridiculous," McCreary County Judge Executive Jimmie Greene said. "That is such a travesty of justice."
He said the drug crisis has hit hard in his county of less than 18,000 people. "It destroyed families. It literally destroyed families," he said. The head of McCreary's anti-drug task force said his group runs out of opioid overdose-reversing Narcan every year.
The DEA said Coffey's Scott County clinic was the primary supplier of pills for three drug trafficking organizations in Southeastern Kentucky. He prescribed at a rate four times higher than the national average, the DEA said.
"Justice to me would probably have been about 20 years," said McCreary County Sheriff Randy Waters. Most of the drug dealers he busts face longer sentences than Coffey will under his plea agreement.
"Am I surprised he's pleading guilty? No sir," Waters said. "If I were in his shoes, I’d take that deal too."
Coffey's attorney, Gregory P. Isaacs, declined to comment Friday because the plea agreement is still a pending federal matter. A judge has yet to accept the plea and sentence Coffey.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Southeastern Kentucky also declined to comment.
Coffey's physician's license expired in October 2021, records show. His clinic burned to the ground in a suspicious fire soon after the allegations became public. The clinic announced in July 2020 that it would permanently close the following month.
"He'd give you what you needed"
Greene said he saw Coffey's pill mill operation in action firsthand. Before he was elected county leader, he worked for a medical transportation company and frequently drove clients across the state line to Coffey's clinic.
"Some had various ailments, the majority of them were going down there to seek pain medication," he said.
When he'd arrive, Greene saw a chaotic scene at the small clinic: a long wait in a packed waiting room with people milling around in the parking lot.
"I had a client tell me one time that it was an aggravation because he had to be there for half a day, but it was well worth it because he got whatever he needed," Greene said.
In a sworn affidavit, undercover DEA agents described seeing a similar scene and paint a picture of a streamlined operation that formed the primary drug supply for traffickers in areas hard hit by the opioid epidemic.
In undercover operations, law enforcement saw approximately 100 cars parked at Coffey's clinic. Suspected drug traffickers stood outside, while inside the wait for a visit was approximately 6 hours, the affidavit said.
The undercover agents reported seeing Coffey or his son Brandon, also a doctor at the clinic, for mere seconds before receiving prescriptions for highly addictive pills.
"It was common knowledge"
Greene said word spread fast in McCreary that Coffey would prescribe copious amounts of opioids with few questions asked. He was surprised it took as long as it did for federal authorities to catch on — and shocked when they reached such a lenient plea agreement.
"Just to put it frankly, I thought it was a joke. I don’t know how you can distribute five million pills and only get charged for 60 pills," he said. "What’s the difference between him and a high-level drug dealer out on the street? Maybe he just had a license to do it."
Greene wants Coffey to face a jury trial — and spend significant time behind bars.
Instead, despite the staggering quantity of pills that the DEA said Coffey's clinic prescribed, he will plead guilty to illegally distributing just 60 oxycodone 15-milligram pills in September 2016.
The plea agreement said Coffey inappropriately pre-signed prescriptions for oxycodone and hydrocodone — he pleaded guilty to knowingly causing one of those prescriptions to be issued to a patient without a legitimate medical purpose.
He also pleaded guilty to depositing a $12,371.03 check consisting of money he made from drug trafficking and money laundering, the plea agreement indicated.
As part of the plea deal, Coffey will also forfeit $1.58 million and two Mercedes-Benz GL450s seized by the government because they’re connected to “drug trafficking” and “money laundering.”
In exchange for his guilty pleas, the government will stop its prosecution of Coffey in Tennessee and Kentucky, where the case was initially brought.
"What’s the price of destroying hundreds maybe thousands of lives? You know? I think maybe let a jury decide that," Greene said.