Owner of Eagle River medical clinic arrested on federal drug charges

Wednesday, October 9, 2019 - 17:21
  • The Eagle River Wellness clinic on Brooks Loop in Eagle River. The clinic’s owner, Jessica Spayd, was arrested Tuesday on federal drug charges. (Matt Tunseth / Chugiak-Eagle River Star)
  • A sign on the Eagle River Wellness clinic on Brooks Loop in Eagle River. The clinic’s owner, Jessica Spayd, was arrested Tuesday on federal drug charges. (Matt Tunseth / Chugiak-Eagle River Star)

The owner of an Eagle River medical clinic has been arrested on federal narcotics charges.

According to a press release by U.S. District Attorney Bryan Schroder, nurse practitioner Jessica Joyce Spayd, 48, of Anchorage allegedly distributed “large amounts of opiods and other powerful narcotics by writing prescriptions for ‘patients’ without medical examinations and lacking medical necessity.”

Spayd owns the Eagle River Wellness clinic in Eagle River. She was one of two people arrested in unrelated cases, Schroder wrote. Also arrested was Soldotna doctor Lavern R. Davidhizar, 74.

According to the criminal complaint, drugs — including oxycodone, methadone and hydromorphone — prescribed by Spayd led to the death of at least two people.

“Spayd prescribed over 4 million dosage units of opioid narcotics to just over 450 unique “patients” in Alaska, many of whom traveled hundreds of miles from Fairbanks, Utqiagvik, King Salmon and other remote locations to obtain prescriptions,” Schroeder wrote.

Spayd faces a mandatory minimum of 20 years to life in federal prison if convicted.

According to municipal property records, Spayd’s 2,846-square foot clinic was built in 1955 as a single-family home and is now owned by JJS Properties, LLC.

The tidy lime-green clinic is located alongside the Glenn Highway in downtown Eagle River on Brooks Loop, a quiet, narrow one-way street lined with small businesses, including a pizza parlor, a dog grooming business and a church. Its small parking lot is sandwiched between a funeral home and quick lube and its services are advertised on a large highway sign that overlooks the busy highway between Anchorage and the Mat-Su. On Wednesday, the clinic’s blinds were drawn and signs on both doors said it will be closed until further notice.

According to its website, Eagle River Wellness was founded in 2002 “to increase access to quality pain management for the chronic pain patient using the holistic approach.” The clinic’s mission statement highlights the “working partnership between patient and provider to come up with a plan of care that meets the individuals needs and optimizes patient FUNCTIONING.”

“We seek effective treatments while giving great weight to individuals patients safety as well as community well being.”

The website lists four employees, including Spayd as well as an office manager and two medical assistants.

According to the affidavit filed against her, Spayd was the subject of a three-month undercover investigation into her medical practice. The investigation was triggered by several “red flags,” that were noted by a DEA investigative analyst, including the fact she was writing potentially harmful combinations of prescriptions; writing prescriptions that exceeded federal guidelines; had patients from far-flung parts of the state; and had patients who used multiple forms of payment and pharmacies.

The affidavit says that although Spayd advertised her clinic as a Suboxone clinic, that drug was only her 40th most prescribed. The most prescribed drugs, investigators wrote, were oxycodone, methadone, hydrocodone, Zolpidem Tartrate, carisoprodol and hydromorphone.

Investigators say Spayd’s practices were so out of line with other medical practitioners that pharmacies refused to fill prescriptions she had written.

“Numerous pharmacies in Alaska have stopped filling prescriptions written by SPAYD,” reads the affidavit. “Agents have identified at least one specific pharmacy in Fairbanks that refuses to fill Spayd’s prescriptions because of her prescribing practices, and in recorded conversations Spayd admitted that Carr’s and Walmart will not fill her prescriptions.”

Additionally, Spayd ranked in the top 0.5% out of 170,000 prescribers for daily morphine milligram equivalent doses of opioids, according to federal investigators.

An independent consulting firm reviewed Spayd’s prescriptions and found that between 2014 and 2019, nearly 90 percent of her patients received opioid prescriptions. Additionally, investigators said the analysis found at least 19 of her patients died within one month of filling an opioid prescription, 12 died within two weeks and five died the same day.

In 2018, investigators met with the pharmacy manager at the Penland Parkway Carrs, who told them a man (described as Patient 1) had dropped off a Percocet prescription for another person that was written by Spayd. The manager checked a state database and found the patient had filled prescriptions at five different Carrs pharmacies, which he said “raised a red flag.”

The pharmacist later called the person who the prescription was supposedly written for, and that person told the pharmacist that Spayd was not his doctor and does not use oxycodone.

When confronted, Spayd allegedly asked the pharmacist not to contact police. She allegedly told the pharmacist she knew Patient 1. Investigators said they later discovered Spayd shared a physical address with Patient 1 on E. Northern Lights in Anchorage.

Investigators set up an undercover operation in which they made visits to Spayd’s clinic. According to the affidavit, one undercover agent told Spayd he had been on Oxycodone for a long time and usually gets it from friends. Spayd eventually wrote opioid prescriptions to undercover officers who said they needed it not for pain, but for withdrawl symptoms. Spayd allegedly told investigators she knew doing so was against the law.

This is a developing story; check back for details.

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