GAINESVILLE, Ga. (CW69 News at 10) — The former CEO of Union General Hospital and two doctors who practiced in Blairsville, Georgia will now spend time in federal prison for illegally prescribing and obtaining pain pills, according to the Department of Justice in the Northern District of Georgia.

John Michael “Mike” Gowder, 62, of Nashville, Tennessee, Dr. James Heaton, 63, and Dr. George David Gowder, 63, both of Blairsville, were convicted last year. Authorities said Mike Gowder and Heaton illegally prescribed and obtained more than 15,000 doses of prescription pain medicine for no authorized purpose. They said David Gowder pleaded guilty to illegally dispensing opiates for no legitimate medical purpose.

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In a press release, U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said his office has made investigating prescription drug abuse and its related criminal activity a central focus. He also indicated, “Jurors in this case sent a clear message that the illicit prescribing and obtaining of controlled substances will not be tolerated.”

Pak sentenced Mike Gowder to one year and one day in prison. Investigators said he had been filling illegal prescriptions he received from Heaton at different pharmacies in order to conceal the large quantities of the pills, often traveling out of state.

Authorities said Heaton illegally prescribed increasing quantities of hydrocodone and oxycodone to Mike Gowder between 2012 and 2015. In addition, they said he had issued hydrocodone, oxycodone and methadone prescriptions to two female patients for no legitimate medical purpose. Heaton received six years in prison.

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David Gowder, who investigators said admitted he had an oxycodone addiction, was sentenced to one year and six months in prison on June 10, 2020. Investigators said he had forged oxycodone prescriptions that were written by a colleague, wrote or called in high dosage illegal prescriptions under family or fictitious patient names, had hospital employees fill many of the prescriptions and also stole pills from patients.

Robert J. Murphy, the Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Atlanta Field Division, stated, “In this case, the dispensing of addictive prescription pain medication under the guise of a licensed medical professional’s care is not about the good of the community or an individual’s specific health needs; it is about the greed of those involved in illegal prescribing practices. DEA and its law enforcement partners will continue to expend its time, energy and resources in an effort to stem the tide against the growing opioid epidemic. The spirited level of law enforcement cooperation and the prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office made this investigation a success.”

The press release indicated the three individuals had operated as follows:

From 2011 to 2015, Mike Gowder served as the Chief Operating Officer and later Chief Executive Officer of Union General Hospital in Blairsville, Georgia. Dr. James Heaton operated a family practice clinic in Blairsville and worked as the Medical Director of the Nursing Home of the Hospital. Dr. David Gowder was the Emergency Room Director of the hospital and a member of the Hospital’s Board of Directors (until April 2015).

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Several law enforcement agencies and U.S. attorneys were involved in this case, which authorities said was brought as part of a partnership called Operation SCOPE, Strategically Combatting Opioids through Prosecution and Enforcement.