MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – A local doctor faces criminal charges accusing her of writing prescriptions for painkillers without a medical justification.
The indictment handed up by a federal grand jury and unsealed this month alleges two offenses against Dr. Chykeetra “Che-Che” Maltbia – conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute Oxycodone; and possession with intent to distribute the drug.
Maltbia is scheduled to be formally arraigned Wednesday in Mobile’s federal court. Defense attorney Dennis Knizley told FOX10 News that she will plead not guilty.
“She did everything she was supposed to do as a physician,” she said. “She had thorough examinations. She did field counts, if necessary. She got medical histories from other people.”
The charges against Maltiba come amid increased efforts by federal authorities to target prescription drug abuse.
A federal jury in Mobile last year acquitted Dr. Richard Snellgrove of Fairhope on charges that he contributed to the overdose death of 3 Doors Down guitarist Matt Roberts.
That came after federal prosecutors won convictions in 2017 against Dr. Xiulu Ruan and Dr. John Patrick Couch, co-owners of two Physicians' Pain Specialists of Alabama clinics. A judge sentenced Ruan to 21 years in prison and imposed a 20-year sentence on Couch.
Knizley suggested that the prosecutions are a reaction to the spike in opioid overdoses that have gripped the country in recent years.
“It’s a fashionable thing they do nowadays,” he said. “They’re looking into the cause of what they perceive as an opioid crisis, and anytime a physician who prescribes opioids, or some patient runs afoul of the law, they generally begin to scrutinize the doctor’s practice.”
Knizley said he believes federal investigators considered his client’s decision not to accept insurance to be a “red flag.” But he added there was nothing untoward about that practice.
“I do think she has a defendable case,” he said.
Based on similar cases, Knizley said, the dispute likely will hinge on whether a jury believes the defendant’s prescription fell within the accepted standard of care. It is not a case of a doctor handing out prescriptions to patients she never treated, he said.
“It’s one of those judgment cases … It often becomes a battle of the experts,” he said.
Records from the state Board of Medical Examiners indicate the Maltbia in February voluntarily surrendered her Alabama Controlled Substance certificate. As a result of that action, which was related to an investigation by the board, Maltbia – while maintaining her medical license – is prohibited from prescribing drugs.
Knizley said his client intends to seek reinstatement of the prescription certificate if she prevails in the criminal case. But he added that might be difficult.
“From our experience, they’re not so willing even when a physician is totally acquitted in a federal court of all these things, they don’t go say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and give you your DEA registration back,” he said. “It’s something you have to fight for.”
An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect name for 3 Doors Down guitarist Matt Roberts.