GA hospital CEO, 5 suspects arrested in prescription drug bust

A north Georgia hospital was the target of a prescription drug bust and raided by federal agents Thursday.

Six arrests were made including the hospital CEO and five other suspects, Channel 2 Action News reported.

Mike Gower, CEO of the Union County General Hospital in Blairsville, was  apprehended after a nine-month long, multi-state Drug Enforcement Agency investigation that involved fraudulent prescriptions painkillers, authorities said.

Union county deputies, DEA agents, and North Carolina law enforcement said they served six arrest warrants and in addition to Gower’s arrest, four of his family members and two doctors were apprehended in the sting.

One of the physicians, Dr. James Heaton was arrested at his Union County medical practice near the hospital and accused of writing fraudulent prescriptions painkillers. Police told Channel 2 that Heaton wrote more than 15,000 fraudulent prescriptions for painkillers, like oxycodone, for Gower over a three-year period.

Deputies hauled out truckloads of documents from the hospital, and said Gower is facing multiple prescription drug charges.

Prescription drug abuse is a growing problem across Georgia, DEA agent Clyde Shelley told the station.

“Two million people each year start their drug abuse with painkillers. Many heroin addicts start off becoming addicts for their abuse with prescription drugs,” Shelley said.

Agents also said prescriptions written may have been filled in three different states.

North Carolina sheriff Derrick Palmer said some prescriptions were written to fake people, and others were over-prescribed and excessively written in more amounts than patients can take.

A patient, Jim Vanderhoff, drove up as Heaton was being arrested. “I’m very sorry that’s happened. I would hate to lose him as a doctor,” Vanderhoff said. “I’m very surprised. I really feel that he’s been a great guy.”

Union County Sheriff Mack Mason told Channel 2 that this case is far from over, but he hopes it doesn’t give people a bad impression of what he says it a good hospital.

“It’s unfortunate that this has transpired but we follow the evidence and we mean to follow it to the end,” Mason said.