A former Anchorage doctor was sentenced Wednesday to spend a year under home imprisonment after he admitted to prescribing unnecessary opioids to patients, in part to fuel his own addiction.
Both prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed Wednesday that now-68-year-old Michael Robertson showed genuine remorse and even relief almost immediately after the charges were filed.
From 2015 until 2018, Robertson prescribed 30 patients a total of 465 prescriptions for an opioid called meperidine, commonly sold under the brand name Demerol, according to federal plea agreement signed in July 2019. Robertson would have the patients divert the pills back to him and, in exchange, he would write them prescriptions for opioids including fentanyl and oxycodone, the plea agreement said.
Medicaid paid Robertson’s practice when the prescriptions were filed and also paid pharmacies when they were filled, the agreement said. The payments totaled just under $7,000.
Robertson was involved in a severe motorcycle crash during 2013 that temporarily left him in a coma and subsequently caused a lasting traumatic brain injury, according to a sentencing memorandum filed by his attorney, Darryl Thompson.
“Too often, for someone in genuine and significant pain, the lines between when is the use of narcotics to manage chronic and severe pain and when their use cross that line into full blown addiction,” Thompson wrote in the court filing. “For those in long term chronic pain, often they run parallel courses.”
Thompson said during Wednesday’s sentencing that while Robertson’s addiction does not excuse his actions, it does explain some of what unfolded. After he was arrested, Robertson voluntarily surrendered his state medical license and his registration to prescribe controlled substances, the plea agreement said.
Robertson confessed to the crimes nearly immediately and cooperated with the investigation, attorneys said. The arrest came as a relief to Robertson, Thompson wrote in the sentencing memorandum.
“It was at that moment he knew he was done with reckless and self-destructive behavior. ... He truly found himself, as many do in the vicious cycle, of wanting to stop but not finding or seeing the pathway for himself to accomplish the goal,” the court filing said about his addiction.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonas Walker agreed that Robertson had shown genuine remorse throughout the investigation and court process. Robertson himself offered an apology to his family and all others who had been affected by his actions.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and an overwhelming outbreak at correctional facilities across the state, Robertson was sentenced to spend a year under home imprisonment.