West Memphis doctor transitioning from prescribing opioids to medical marijuana

WATCH: West Memphis doctor transitioning from prescribing opioids to medical marijuana

WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. — A West Memphis physician is beginning medical marijuana evaluations for qualifying patients, becoming one of just a handful of doctors doing these evaluations across the Natural State.

Dr. James Miller said in an interview with FOX13 Investigates on Friday that he became concerned in recent years with opioid addiction and wants to move away from prescribing prescription pills.

RELATED: Only handful of doctors conducting medical marijuana evaluations in Arkansas

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“If not controlled in some manner properly – in medical dispensation – if not properly done, [opioid] could effectively destroy a culture,” said Miller on Friday.

FOX13 Investigates found out that Miller has had previous issues with overprescribing pills, which included the state suspending his license twice between 2007 and 2016.

However, Miller has his full license now.

Moving to medical marijuana evaluations

Miller wants to move away from prescribing pain pills with a goal of phasing out for his patients who can qualify for a medical marijuana card.

“As we move these patients to medical marijuana, the opioid dispensing will go down and eventually, I will discontinue it completely for that particular patient,” said Miller.

So far, according to Miller, at least one of his patients was approved for a medical marijuana card in Arkansas.

“You can take them off of benzodiazepines and move them to the effect of marijuana,” said Miller.

The West Memphis doctor calculated conducting evaluations for six to 12 patients.

“We have slowly begun to move those patients in this category of diagnosis for medical marijuana,” Miller said.

Disciplinary action for over-prescribing

Miller has been a licensed physician in the Natural State for most of the past 40 years.

Prescribing pain pills for pain management was the norm for years.

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When asked if he had ever overprescribed a patient previously, Miller told FOX13 Investigates “not intentionally.”

“What has happened to the doctor is that we have medicines available to us over the years that have become progressively more addictive,” said Miller. “But we innocently, I think, overprescribe at times the level of pain that the patient has or the actual response to that pain that the patient has.

“Now, I may have committed in some way but over time, it becomes apparent and then you correct your dosage once you become aware that this patient may need modification of drug.”

Miller was accused by the Arkansas State Medical Board of over-prescribing his patients multiple times over the past 11 years: first in 2007 and again in 2016.

FOX13 Investigates obtained four disciplinary board orders from Miller’s record.

In Oct. 2007, The Arkansas State Medical Board suspended Miller’s license and accused him of over-prescribing prescription pain medications for more than a dozen patients.

In one case, the board accused Miller of over-prescribing Diazepam, Hydrocodone and amphetamines for a non-approved condition.

Diazepam is a type of benzodiazepine

Hydrocodone is an opioid in the class of drugs known as “narcotic analgesics”, according to healthline.com.

The board and Miller agreed to reinstate part of his license in Feb. 2008.

Miller had to surrender his DEA permit, take medical courses and pay more than $10,000 in fines to the board.

In 2013, Miller reapplied for his DEA permit with the board and got it back the following year.

“The Board voted to allow the physician to reapply for a DEA permit with the agreement that he will not prescribe anorexic drugs,” April 2013 minutes for the Arkansas State Medical Board read. “Additionally, the Board voted to conduct an investigation four months after he receives his DEA permit and that he returns before the Board for an update six months after he has received his DEA permit.”

Miller returned the next April to provide the board with “a copy of the document listing his DEA restrictions.”

He came back in Dec. 2014 for an update. Then in Oct. 2016, the board again suspended Miller’s license, accusing him of over-prescribing scheduled medications.

Two months later, his license was restored.

‘Nothing to prohibit him’

Miller has had no other issues with his license over the past two-and-a-half-years.

Miller’s staff told FOX13 Investigates on Friday that he has done well and his move to medical marijuana evaluations will only help get patients off opioid dependency.

“The medication utilized in the care of that patient has to be modified away from addiction as best as we can,” said Miller.

FOX13 Investigates spoke with several people associated with the Arkansas State Medical Board Monday morning.

One person with knowledge of the board said there are no rules or regulations pertaining to medical marijuana.

Kevin O’Dwyer, the attorney for the board, said Miller can do medical marijuana evaluations.

“I cannot speak for the board,” said O’Dwyer, “but there is nothing to prohibit him from doing it at this point.”