updated 5/22/2007 10:42:46 PM ET 2007-05-23T02:42:46

A doctor and two office managers have been charged with illegally distributing excessive amounts of a powerful painkiller and other drugs, leading to the deaths of at least 14 people, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

A federal grand jury returned an indictment that was unsealed Tuesday against Dr. Paul Volkman, 60, Denise Huffman, 54, and her daughter, Alice Huffman Ball, 32. All three were arrested Monday.

They are accused of distributing 1.5 million pain pills between 2001 and 2006 while working out of southern Ohio clinics in Portsmouth and South Point. The pills included the painkiller OxyContin and other drugs.

Volkman allegedly wrote prescriptions for excessive dosages or prescriptions for patients who did not need the drugs. When pharmacists became suspicious and refused to fill the prescriptions, the three opened their own drug dispensary center within one of the pain clinics, according to the indictment.

The 14 who died did so after using drugs prescribed or distributed by Volkman, many from “multiple drug intoxication,” the indictment said.

The suspected conspiracy helped feed the demand for illegal consumption of OxyContin and other controlled substances in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee, authorities said.

James Rion, an attorney for Denise Huffman, denied the allegations.

“They were involved in a legal operation,” he said. “Drugs were dispensed in a lawful manner.”

It was not immediately known whether Volkman and Ball had hired attorneys.

A 'death waiver' signed
Many of the patients at the pain clinics were drug addicts who traveled more than 400 miles round-trip, said Fred Alverson, a spokesman with the U.S. attorney’s office in Columbus. Volkman would give the patients a cursory physical exam, charge them up to $200 per visit and write a prescription for pain medicine, the indictment alleges.

The doctor, who was aware that some patients were abusing drugs, told one client to sign a “death waiver” and acknowledge the risk in taking an excessive amount of a controlled substance, the indictment said.

At least nine people died as a result of drugs they received from Volkman at the pain clinics, and five others died from drugs they received from him at separate offices he kept in Portsmouth and Chillicothe, Alverson said.

The three defendants face charges including distributing a controlled substance that results in death. That charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, Alverson said.

Ball was scheduled to have an initial court appearance before a federal magistrate in Cincinnati on Wednesday. Huffman was to have a detention hearing Thursday, and Volkman remained in custody in Illinois.

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