Crime

Workers at Biloxi psychiatric center accused of running prescription drug ring

Top row from left, Nikita Piernas, Andrea Opoku, Tyrone Thomas, Beverly Clayton, Thomas Davis. Second row from left, Thomas Williams, Brittany Payne, Terry Grant, Kayla Caldwell, Marcus Price.
Top row from left, Nikita Piernas, Andrea Opoku, Tyrone Thomas, Beverly Clayton, Thomas Davis. Second row from left, Thomas Williams, Brittany Payne, Terry Grant, Kayla Caldwell, Marcus Price.

Three health care workers at an outpatient psychiatric center in Biloxi are accused of running a prescription drug ring in a conspiracy said to have lasted nearly three years.

An indictment unsealed in U.S. District Court identified the three workers and nine people said to have obtained fraudulent prescriptions for a variety of opioids, an anxiety medication and stimulants. The drugs involved are oxycodone, hydrocodone, alprazolam, amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall) and Klonopin, according to the indictment.

The health care workers were employed by Merit Health’s Gulf Oaks Outpatient Center in Biloxi. They are Andrea Reene Opoku, 34; Nikita Marie Piernas, 29; and Tyrone Leonard Thomas, 36.

A Merit Health spokeswoman declined to say if the workers had been fired or to confirm their job titles. They are not believed to be doctors.

“These employees have not been on the schedule to work at the hospital for some time,” said Lori Bickel, Merit Health director of marketing and physician recruitment.

The DEA arrested Opoku, Piernas and Thomas on Wednesday.

Others arrested after indictment are Beverly Ann Clayton, 53; Brittany Jalisa Payne, 27; Marcus Deshawn Price, 27; Terry O’Neal Grant, 30; Thomas Luther Davis, 28; Thomas Elliott Williams, 28; and Kayla Tiara Caldwell, 26.

The two others indicted are Cauricia Williams and James Thomas Davis III, ages unknown. They have not yet been brought to court, records show.

A 42-count indictment has charged each of them with conspiracy to distribute or dispense controlled substances outside the scope of professional practice.

The indictment indicates Opoku led the operation by giving out prescriptions unlawfully with Piernas’ help. Opoku is charged with eight counts of distributing prescriptions; Piernas is charged with six counts.

Most of the others are charged with two or five counts of prescription fraud. Tyrone Thomas is the only one with a single count of prescription fraud.

Grant and Price are held for detention hearings on July 3.

The others taken into custody have been given bonds of $25,000.

Judge Sul Ozerden has set trial on a court calendar that starts Sept. 5.

How the alleged drug ring operated and how it was uncovered remains unclear.

Mississippi’s Prescription Monitoring Program database is often used by federal and state agents in drug cases. Pharmacists are required to use the database to check for potential doctor shopping and it’s recommended that doctor’s check it before writing prescriptions for narcotics.

The Drug Enforcement Administration cannot discuss the case since it has been turned over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said Derryle Smith, resident agent in charge of the DEA in Gulfport.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office cannot comment beyond what it is in the indictment, spokeswoman Sheila Wilbanks said.

A criminal complaint, which offers details alleging probable cause for an arrest, was not filed in the case.

Smith said a complaint wasn’t filed because of the number of arrests involved.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

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