By C.V. Moore
The complexity and heartbreak of Fayette County’s prescription drug abuse problem came once more to light Tuesday as Oak Hill dentist Dr. Charles Shelton was sentenced for six felony counts of constructive delivery of hydrocodone.
An emotional Shelton told the court he prescribed drugs to his addicted son and his son’s then-fiancée because he could not afford to send them to a methadone clinic.
“And, albeit a bad choice, I decided the best thing I could do would be to provide them with less powerful narcotic drugs, which is what I did,” Shelton told Judge John Hatcher.
“It was a mistake and I will forever ask myself why I did that and can only explain that it was for the love of my children.”
Hatcher denied a request by Shelton’s lawyer that the 62-year old man be placed on probation, due to ill health and precarious finances.
He sentenced Shelton to one to five years for each felony. Four of those will be served consecutively, and two will be served concurrently with each other and the other counts.
Shelton was originally indicted on 30 felony counts. All but six were dismissed in a plea agreement.
“Fayette County is now in the midst of a horrific pain medication abuse problem,” Hatcher said. “It is destroying the lives, families, careers and the very human fabric of our once calm, rural, peaceful county.”
Shelton’s son, Charles Shelton Jr., said he took the pills and sold them for more powerful pills, according to Hatcher. The judge also said that not only did Shelton write prescriptions for his son, he wrote them for other people for no legitimate reason. Prosecuting Attorney Carl Harris said that eight of the 30 were forged.
“Your conduct, no matter what you may think about it, was a very large contributor to pain prescription problems in the Oak Hill area. You believed you were helping your son, but you were not. You were hurting him, his girlfriend and others. Your conduct put pain medications illegally into the hands of drug dealers,” said Hatcher.
Shelton said he was in a “tenuous situation” with the IRS — to which he owes an estimated $750,000 in back taxes and penalties — and did not have the funds to enroll his son and then-fiancée in a methadone clinic for their addiction.
Rumors that turned out to be fact about Shelton writing prescriptions to non-patients prompted a State Police investigation. The Board of Pharmacy monitored the dentist and an informant, trusted by Shelton’s son, made a recording that led directly to his takedown on the highway.
Shelton’s son pleaded guilty in March to six felony counts of constructive delivery of a controlled substance. His sentencing is set for April 18.
The dentist apologized during Tuesday’s hearing, backed by some half dozen friends and family.
“I really feel the need to apologize to the court — to you personally and to the court in general — and the state as a whole for not being steadfast in my observation of the law,” he told Hatcher.
“I feel like my actions have tarnished my father and mother’s legacy. It has alienated my brothers and sister. I have disgraced myself in the eyes of my wife and family.
“I have diminished my standing with medical and dental colleagues, patients, church family, friends and acquaintances, and none of this would have occurred if I had just followed the guidelines of the law.”
Hatcher said that compared to other drug criminals, Shelton was rare in some ways — especially his level of education — but not in others, based on his “destitute” financial situation. He has lost his license and ability to write prescriptions.
Hatcher said he is well aware of Shelton’s involvement in church and community activities. He received letters of support from Shelton’s church community and family. His wife wrote that he is one of the “nicest and sweetest people” and “very smart,” according to Hatcher.
“And no doubt you are,” said Hatcher. “But then we get back to the bad judgment.”
“Somewhere, somehow, in the deep dark recesses of your mind and your depression, you lost your common sense, your good judgment. You forgot everything you learned in dental school. Your moral compass literally fell apart.
“Your conduct was illegal, deliberate, dangerous and could have been deadly. It was repeated over and over, and it was inexcusable.
“Your physical and emotional health, in my judgment, cannot and must not stand as a shield between you and justice.”
When given an opportunity to speak, Shelton said forcefully and emotionally, “I’ve been measured and found to be wanting and my only hope is in knowing that my Lord and Savior is by my side.”