A veteran Irmo doctor said Wednesday in federal court that he tends to believe patients who claim they have severe pain and need large prescriptions for painkillers like oxycodone.
“I have just done this for a long time, and I have a very caring heart and try to help people,” Sean Fuller, a family practitioner, testified before a federal jury in a drug trafficking trial that has exposed a major illegal oxycodone ring in the Midlands. “I don’t like to have them in pain.”
Nonetheless, under questioning by assistant U.S. Attorney Winston Holliday, Fuller insisted he does due diligence when patients report pain and ask for painkillers: questioning them about the intensity of their pain, prior use of painkillers and having them do regular urine tests to see if they are, in fact, taking the narcotics and not reselling them.
Undisputed testimony in the ongoing trial indicates Fuller was an unwitting pawn in an organized Columbia area drug ring run by Theodore “Uncle Teddy” Fulton, who rounded up friends and associates and sent them to Fuller.
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Fuller usually wound up prescribing 300 30-milligram oxycodone pills per month, which Fulton could resell for $20-25 a pill as part of a booming illegal drug resale business that netted him hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years, according to evidence in the case. Fulton was running at least nine people regularly through Fuller’s office, according to evidence.
Fulton, 61, has pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and is awaiting sentencing. In an appearance on the witness stand Wednesday, he testified he intentionally sent associates to Fuller who became Fuller’s regular patients, getting their oxycodone prescriptions renewed once a month. He also gave them oxycodone-laced urine because he knew the doctor would test their urine.
Calvin Sims, 54, of West Columbia, and Daryal Hipp, 59, of the Columbia area, are on trial this week, accused of conspiring to traffic in Oxycodone. They have pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney’s office said Wednesday they do not intend to charge Fuller with any crime. There is no evidence he had knowledge his prescriptions were being resold illegally on the street, they said.
Under questioning by defense attorney Doug Truslow, Fuller testified he has voluntarily surrendered his federal license to prescribe narcotics such as oxycodone.
Fuller said he gave up the license in January after being visited by DEA agents. The agents told him about the investigation and told him “the amount of pain medications that were written was overprescribing.” By immediately giving up his license, Fuller avoided the possibility that federal authorities would try to take it from him. He still practices as a family doctor.
Earlier Wednesday, witness Bobby DuBose testified that Fulton sent him to see Fuller.
DuBose, 61, said he had a drug habit when he began seeing Fuller, so he was glad to do it, since Fulton let him keep some of the monthly oxycodone prescription and also paid him. Fulton also paid for the doctor visits and to get the prescriptions filled at local pharmacies.
“It was like winning the lottery” to get free drugs every month, DuBose said. He testified he became highly addicted to the drug and was actually glad to be arrested in August 2014 as part of the drug ring. Since then, he has gotten in a program to wean him off drugs and has been drug free for months, he said.
The trial is in its fourth day at the U.S. courthouse in Columbia. Judge Michelle Childs is presiding. Oxycodone is highly addictive and a widely abused drug.