DEEPER FINDING: Metro Atlanta podiatrist ran opioid pill mill for three years

Agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration raided the Sandy Springs office of Dr. Arnita Avery-Kelly in April 2016. (Channel 2 Action News)
Agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration raided the Sandy Springs office of Dr. Arnita Avery-Kelly in April 2016. (Channel 2 Action News)

A federal jury has found a metro Atlanta podiatrist guilty of prescribing hundreds of thousands of narcotic pills to opioid addicts and dealers.

Dr. Arnita Avery-Kelly, 56, was charged with running the pill mill between November 2013 and April 2016 at two clinics: Podiatric Medical & Surgical Services, 5825 Glenridge Drive in Sandy Springs, and Podiatric Medical and Surgical Spa at 6148 Covington Highway in Lithonia.

Her license to practice podiatry in Georgia only gave her the ability to treat issues related to feet and legs, but she prescribed mass amounts of habit-forming pills for things like chronic neck pain, weight loss and sleeplessness, according to an indictment. Prosecutors wrote that she wrote scripts for patients even before their first appointment.

While her clinics were open, Avery-Kelly prescribed more than 275,000 30 mg oxycodone pills — sold on the streets for $30 each — and 300 fentanyl patches "to patients who were either addicted to these substances or selling them on the streets," according to prosecutors.

Avery-Kelly’s attorneys were not immediately available for comment Friday.

Avery-Kelly’s office manager, Brenda Lewis, pleaded guilty in April 2017 to one charge that included her admitting she took bribes from patients to get opioid prescriptions.

Lewis and Avery-Kelly are set to be sentenced July 24.

The prescriptions “aroused suspicion and concern from pharmacists,” according to the indictment. But authorities investigated Avery-Kelly and Lewis for three years before stopping them.

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Prosecutors said agents with the Georgia Drug & Narcotics Agency, the state pharmacy board's enforcement division, contacted Avery-Kelly in November 2013 and again in February 2014 to discuss her high volume of high-dosage opioid prescriptions. The GDNA only warned her and the Georgia Podiatry Board subjected her to an unspecified "inquiry."

Avery-Kelly and Lewis weren’t stopped until the Drug Enforcement Administration raided her Sandy Springs office in April 2016.

“While in the midst of this country’s prescription opioid crisis, removing and ultimately eliminating physicians who recklessly overprescribe pharmaceutical pills for non-medical reasons, is an important part of DEA’s mission,” Robert J. Murphy, the head of the DEA in Atlanta, said in a Thursday news release.

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Eight months after the 2016 raid, Avery-Kelly's podiatry license was still listed as active with no notes on her public medical profile run by the state, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported. A podiatrist on Georgia's four-member podiatry licensing board said they would wait and see what the courts do before punishing Avery-Kelly, but her license expired eight months later.

As of Friday, there was still no note on her public profile.

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