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Arlington doctor convicted of illicit distribution of more than 1 million opioid pills

Gavel (Flickr photo by Joe Gratz)

An Arlington doctor indicted earlier this year on charges of illicit distribution of opioid pills was found guilty by a federal jury Tuesday.

Dr. Kirsten Ball, 69, was convicted on 20 federal counts that each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Ball’s office manager and co-conspirator was sentenced to seven years in prison last year.

“For over a decade, Dr. Ball was at the epicenter of a conspiracy to distribute oxycodone via a network of individuals posing as patients who were prescribed over a million pills,” Jessica Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement. “She blatantly abused legitimate healthcare procedures, despite clear knowledge of the law and warnings from regulatory agencies of the danger her actions posed to patients.”

Arlington has been hard hit by the national opioid crisis. There were more than 70 fatal opioid overdoses here between 2015 and 2020, according to Arlington County Police Department statistics. The crisis has also infiltrated local schools, with the fatal in-school overdose of a Wakefield High School student this year helping to spur action by Arlington County and Arlington Public Schools.

More below, from a U.S. Dept. of Justice press release.

A federal jury today convicted an Arlington woman of illegally prescribing and distributing oxycodone pills, a controlled substance.

According to court records and evidence presented at trial, Kirsten Van Steenberg Ball, 69, issued prescriptions for over one million oxycodone pills. Ball was a primary care physician who operated a medical practice out of her home in Arlington. She conspired with her office manager, Candy Marie Calix, 41, of Front Royal, to shield from law enforcement and regulatory authorities the fact that she was dispensing vast quantities of oxycodone to her patients—contrary to ordinary standards of medical care.

“Dr. Kirsten Ball’s actions, as detailed by the evidence presented at trial and accepted by the jury, are a perversion of the role of medical practitioners in prescribing opioids,” said Jessica D. Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Medication meant to be carefully provided to people in severe pain was instead prescribed excessively – with no regard for patients’ safety or where the pills would end up. For over a decade, Dr. Ball was at the epicenter of a conspiracy to distribute oxycodone via a network of individuals posing as patients who were prescribed over a million pills. She blatantly abused legitimate healthcare procedures, despite clear knowledge of the law and warnings from regulatory agencies of the danger her actions posed to patients. I am very grateful to the EDVA trial team and the FBI for their work to hold Dr. Ball accountable.”

“Today’s verdict demonstrates the seriousness of illegal opioid distribution and the commitment of law enforcement to bring to justice those who chose to endanger the lives of others,” said David Geist, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office Criminal and Cyber Division. “Kirsten Ball knew her actions were illegal yet, for years, she abused her position of trust by providing individuals in chronic pain with excessive amounts of oxycodone. Ball’s conviction affirms that a medical professional’s disregard for their patient’s well-being and the law will not be tolerated. I’m grateful for those who worked tirelessly to hold her accountable.”

The Virginia Department of Health Professions (DHP) investigated Ball in 2014 and 2015, then again in 2021 for excessive and improper prescribing of oxycodone. Evidence and testimony presented at trial showed that Ball falsified records that she submitted to DHP to cover up the fact that she was prescribing oxycodone to patients for no legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice.

Court records showed that Calix was herself a patient of Ball. Ball prescribed Calix approximately 50,000 oxycodone pills over a period of approximately 10 years. Following the first DHP investigation, Ball directed Calix to use a false name in her capacity as office manager to hide the fact that Calix was receiving oxycodone from Ball.

Additionally, evidence presented at trial revealed that Ball directed Calix to recruit other individuals—including several of Calix’s immediate family members—to become pain patients of Dr. Ball’s so that she could prescribe similarly large quantities of oxycodone to them. Calix, in turn, then sold the tens of thousands of oxycodone pills that Ball prescribed to them.

Evidence and testimony presented at trial showed that Ball prescribed oxycodone to drug traffickers and drug addicts in exchange for hundreds of dollars. In addition, several patients became addicted while receiving oxycodone. Ball generally did not accept new patients unless an established patient vouched for them. This was because, as Ball told Calix, she feared that an unvetted new patient could be an undercover law enforcement officer.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was able to introduce an undercover individual, purporting to be the nephew of an existing patient. In recorded conversations, the undercover told Ball that he was sharing pills with his family members. In response, Ball told the undercover that was “a felony,” that she would simply not write it down in his patient file, and not to tell anybody else. She continued to prescribe escalating quantities of oxycodone to the undercover.

Additional evidence presented at trial from Ball’s own medical files revealed that, even after the Virginia Board of Medicine sanctioned Ball in 2015 for her prescribing practices, Ball continued to prescribe oxycodone to patients showing blatant signs of drug dependence, abuse, diversion, and addiction. For example, she continued to prescribe to multiple patients who submitted urine tests that were positive for illegal drugs, writing that the failed drug tests were caused by eating poppy seeds and using hand lotion containing cocaine. Ball also continued to prescribe to multiple patients that had been arrested and convicted for selling illegal drugs as well as for selling the oxycodone that she prescribed. Further, Ball continued to prescribe to multiple patients who asked for early refills of oxycodone based on unsubstantiated claims of lost or stolen pills. She prescribed multiple patients as many as 360 oxycodone 30-mg tablets per month, and prescribed similarly high quantities of oxycodone to multiple members of families, spouses, and close friends.

Ball was also shown to have paid patients to perform manual labor on her home and vehicles, sometimes while concurrently prescribing the patients oxycodone, ostensibly for long-term pain. She had three of her patients providing unpaid cleaning services at her home bi-weekly for a number of years during the conspiracy.

Evidence adduced at trial revealed that Ball told multiple patients that they would never be able to find another doctor who would prescribe as much oxycodone as she would, and told one that no other doctor would prescribe oxycodone for him at all.

Ball was convicted on 20 counts and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison as to each count of conviction when sentenced on February 27, 2024. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Calix was sentenced to seven years in prison on September 28, 2022, for conspiring to distribute oxycodone.

Jessica D. Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and David Geist, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office Criminal Division, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema accepted the verdict.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Katherine E. Rumbaugh and Heather D. Call are prosecuting the case.

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

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