To hear doctor Robert A. Wiemer Jr. tell it, he compassionately treated the most chronic cases of intractable pain, prescribing opioids, muscle relaxers and anti-anxiety medicine to patients who needed relief.
Federal prosecutors said Wiemer ran a pill mill in Long Beach, demanding cash for large doses of opioids with few questions asked.
At the end of a two-week trial, a jury deliberated more than a day before declaring it was hopelessly deadlocked on all 65 charges filed against Wiemer, who was represented by Michael Crosby of Gulfport.
U.S. Judge Sul Ozerden declared a mistrial Friday evening and said the case will be tried again in January.
Wiemer is charged with 58 counts of distributing drugs without a legitimate medical purpose, one count of conspiracy, five counts of money laundering and one count of maintaining a drug-involved premises.
Wiemer dispensed pills from 2011 until federal investigators stopped him in early 2019, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathlyn Van Buskirk told the jury during closing arguments Thursday.
“He was nothing more than a drug dealer with a license,” she said. She said evidence showed that he handed out “egregious” doses of opioids after only cursory examinations, charging $260 cash per visit.
She said the 73-year-old doctor used 1990s standards to prescribe opioids that have since been recognized as highly addictive and dangerous. Treatment guidelines have adapted to restrict use of the drugs, but Wiemer ignored those.
“Doctor Wiemer was a one-trick pony,” she said. “You came in, you got your opioids. You paid and he profited.”
Prosecutors outlined the cases of 15 patients whose prescriptions became counts of illegal drug distribution in the indictment.
Evidence indicated that Wiemer ignored guidelines for treating these patients by failing to order urine screens that would detect drug abuse, ignoring needle marks on some patients, continuing to prescribe opioids after patients had been arrested or written up for drug abuse and prescribing pain pills for patients who should have been referred to specialists.
In one case, opioids masked a patient’s pain from rheumatoid arthritis, leading to permanent degeneration of her joints. She should have been referred for arthritis treatment, prosecutors said.
He frequently prescribed what is known as “the Holy Trinity,” a combination of an opioid, anti-anxiety medication and a muscle relaxer. The combination raises alarm in law enforcement and medical circles because of the potential for abuse and overdose.
Wiemer testified in his own defense. He said guidelines for opioids do not apply to the “legacy patients” who came to him after physical therapy, surgery or other treatments failed. He said he did treat addicts, and worked to stop their drug abuse, because they also deserve pain relief.
He said he always got to know his patients and spent time with each one during their office visits so that they developed a rapport and were more likely to be honest with him. Most patients were on high doses of opioids when they first came to see him.
“An addict is escaping reality,” Wiemer told the jury. “A pain patient is trying to get back into their reality, their life.”
Wiemer, spent 10 to 14 days a month in the Long Beach clinic, evidence showed. He had 109 patients before the clinic closed, all on opioids and most also on muscle relaxers and anti-anxiety medication.
Wiemer indicated he took notes each time a patient visited him. Patients who testified said he examined them, spent time talking to them and took notes. He said that he ordered urine screens when necessary, but the medical records produced at trial contradicted his testimony.
Wiemer’s attorney, Michael Crosby of Gulfport, claimed Wiemer’s medical records were incomplete because Wiemer’s former business partner was plotting against him with a clinic employee who managed his patients and records.
Emails between the two women showed the clinic employee was passing along clinic information and records to the former business partner without Wiemer’s knowledge.
Crosby said the employee sent the emails to sabotage Wiemer’s civil litigation against the former business partner, who wanted to set up her own clinic and planned to bring Wiemer’s employee onboard for a percentage..
Crosby said in closing arguments that prosecutors were wearing “blinders” and were unwilling to see that Wiemer was a physician who cared about his patients and was only trying to help them.
During the Drug Enforcement Administration investigation of Wiemer, agents sifted through his trash and posed as an undercover patient and doctor.
“I do submit to you that these were legitimate medical patients,” he said. “ . . . What the government sees as addicts a caring physician sees as people suffering from chronic, legacy pain. He tried to be the doctor. He tried to do the right thing.”