(ROLAND, OKLAHOMA) - Twenty-one defendants arrested in connection with “Operation River Valley Pharming” pleaded not guilty to a variety of drug charges in Sebastian County Circuit Court Wednesday.
Several area attorneys entered not guilty pleas for nine more defendants prior to court on Wednesday, allowing them to avoid a court appearance and two defendants scheduled for arraignment had their appearances continued for one week.
Operation River Valley Pharming was the name given to a 13-month investigation led by Fort Smith police into the illegal sales of prescription drugs in the Fort Smith region.
Detective Paul Smith, Fort Smith police narcotics division, said there were three primary catalysts for the operation:
• The overdose deaths of several 19-year-olds and younger area residents attributed to illegally obtained prescription narcotics.
• A rise nationally in the illegal sales of prescription drugs.
• The fact investigators could purchase illegal prescription drugs more easily than methamphetamine or crack in controlled buys.
In prior years, Smith said investigators found most illegal prescription sales involved Schedule II narcotics, while the latest operation revealed that stronger Schedule III narcotics were the easiest to obtain.
Schedule III narcotics include prescription medications such as oxycodone, roxicodone, oxycontin and hydrocodone.
The prescription drugs are finding their way into the local black market through individuals who obtain a prescription from a physician, fill it for between $7 and $10, and resell the pills individually for up to $1,800 per bottle.
During one controlled buy by a confidential informant, oxycodone pills were purchased for $20 each, according to court documents.
The overwhelming majority of defendants arrested in Operation River Valley Pharming are charged with delivery of one of the Schedule III drugs, which under Arkansas law is a Class Y felony punishable by 10 to 40 years or life in prison.
Smith said the market for the illegal prescription drug sales is fueled by three or four “problem doctors,” in the area. Investigators are organizing data on those physicians to present to regulatory agencies and boards that regulate their ability to write such prescriptions.
Some defendants also were charged with selling drugs such as marijuana or methamphetamine.
About four or five arrest warrants remain to be served, Smith said.
Arraigned On Drug Charges
The following individuals arrested in connection with Operation River Valley Pharming were arraigned in Sebastian County Circuit Court Wednesday or pleaded not guilty prior to arraignment to the identified charges through their attorney. All are Fort Smith residents unless otherwise noted:
Jimmy Lee Brinkley, 42, delivery of diazepam.
Jamie Renee Edwards, 30, delivery of oxycodone.
Michael John Mazurek, 22, delivery of oxycodone, possession of oxycodone with intent to deliver and criminal use of a prohibited weapon.
Nicholas Dewayne Pickens, two counts of delivery of oxycodone.
Clifton Barry Ross, 44, delivery of oxycodone.
Russell Alexander Shipman, 28, two counts of delivery of oxycodone.
Nicholas Andrew Stephens, 20, delivery of oxycodone.
Ryan Lee Alexander, 25, Arkoma, delivery of oxycodone.
Derek Dewayne Blasingame, 28, Van Buren, three counts of delivery of oxycodone.
Vivian Helma Collins, 51, delivery of oxycodone.
Lisa Dawn Gilley, 46, three counts of delivery of oxycodone, possession of hydrocodone and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Pamela Ann Harger, 46, Hackett, delivery of oxycodone.
Sarah Ellen Lancaster, 55, delivery of oxycodone.
Rick Jams Littleton, 43, delivery of hydrocodone, possession of methamphetamine, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Billy Wayne Meadors, 27, two counts of delivery of oxycodone.
Shannon Lee Pittman, 45, three counts of delivery of oxycodone.
Billy Ray Smith, 38, delivery of oxycodone.
Deborah Mae Smith, 49, delivery of oxycodone.
Christina Marie White, 26, Barling, two counts of delivery of oxymorphone and delivery of carisoprodol.
Jeffrey Scott Williams, 36, delivery of hydrocodone and delivery of clonazepam.
Archie Cleveland Winters, 48, delivery of oxycodone.
Jessica Lynn Young, 22, delivery of hydrocodone and delivery of marijuana.
Linda Ann Craig, 55, three counts of delivery of delivery of oxycodone. Christopher Scott Freeman, 25, delivery of MDMA.
Kay Annette Franks, 38, two counts of delivery of oxycodone.
David Keith Smith, 23, delivery of oxycodone.
Larry Eugene Aldridge, 47, Alma, two counts of delivery of methamphetamine.
Jennifer Nicole Pittman, 25, delivery of oxycodone and delivery of diazepam.
Albert Dave Skelton, 35, two counts of delivery of marijuana.
Cory Page Cotner, 22, delivery of oxycodone.