Eagle River nurse practitioner sentenced for opioid deaths

FastCast digital headlines for Friday, June 16, 2023.
Published: Jun. 16, 2023 at 2:08 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A former nurse practitioner who worked out of an Eagle River clinic has been sentenced for the illegal prescribing and distribution of opioids.

According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice, 52-year-old Jessica Joyce Spayd — who was convicted of 10 charges on Oct. 27, 2022 — was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment by U.S. District Judge Joshua M. Kindred. Spayd must also forfeit $117,000 she earned as profit from the enterprise.

In addition to five counts of illegal drug distribution, she was also found guilty on charges of maintaining a drug-involved premises at her clinic.

Five people died as a result of taking the drugs inappropriately prescribed by Spayd.

At trial, every medical examiner in the state was called as a witness against her, as each one had performed an autopsy on a victim of Spayd’s. A total of 51 witnesses came forward during the four-week trial, including pharmacists who refused to fill prescriptions written by Spayd, her former employees, and family members of her victims.

Over the course of five years, the nurse practitioner prescribed a total of 4.5 million doses of opioids out of her Eagle River clinic — including fentanyl, methadone, oxycodone, and hydromorphone. On several occasions, Spayd prescribed drugs with potentially fatal contraindications, such as prescribing muscle relaxers in combination with opioids, which greatly increases the potential of overdose and death.

Judge Kindred, in his sentencing, emphasized Spayd’s violation of the trust placed in her as a medical professional and went on to call it one of Alaska’s worst drug cases to date.

“When practitioners fail in their responsibilities, they can do far greater harm than the drug dealer on the street corner,” Kindred said. “This is the deadliest drug case in this district’s history. And disturbingly, the five deaths the Defendant was convicted of at trial are just the tip of the iceberg.”

Because Spayd did not thoroughly examine patients or review their medical records prior to prescribing potentially deadly medications, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan D. Tansey believes she harmed many more than just the five people whose deaths she contributed to.

“Spayd may have caused or contributed to the deaths of dozens: 20 total confirmed drug overdoses and many others suspected,” Tansey said. “She is a serial killer with a poison pen.”

U.S. Attorney S. Lane Tucker reiterated to medical providers in the state that conduct such as Spayd’s is destructive.

“Medical practitioners who abuse their positions of trust by supplying millions of opioids for no legitimate medical purpose wreak havoc on our community,” Tucker said. “Let this sentence send a clear message to any other medical practitioners considering similar conduct in Alaska: our office and law enforcement partners will work tirelessly to investigate and prosecute these cases, and you will be punished severely.”