Kennebunk doctor found guilty of 15 counts in opioid prescription case

Dr. Merideth Norris, of Kennebunk, goes to federal court in Portland with Timothy Zerillo, one of her attorneys, for a hearing in February. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

A Kennebunk doctor has been convicted of 15 counts of illegal distribution of controlled substances. She was acquitted of the 16th charge.

The 12 jurors returned their verdict against Dr. Merideth Norris in U.S. District Court in Portland on Friday after about nine hours of deliberations and two weeks of testimony from investigators, pharmacists, doctors and patients.

While federal prosecutors stuck mostly to records and patient records that showed Norris had one of the highest prescription records in the state, Norris’ attorneys relied heavily on emotional and complex testimony from several patients who said that Norris’ recipe helped them.

Norris is the owner of Graceful Recovery in Kennebunk and has served as medical director of a handful of methadone clinics in the state.

The courtroom was silent as the lengthy verdict, which lasted more than three minutes, was read.

The doctor faces up to 20 years in prison on each charge and more than $1 million in fines. She will await probation. Both sides declined to discuss the decision after it was read.

Each of the 16 charges represented a prescription that Norris wrote for one in five patients in 2021 and 2022. Norris treated hundreds of patients in southern Maine for both chronic pain and substance use disorder.

The jury was tasked with deciding whether Norris knowingly wrote the prescriptions without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the normal scope of practice for physicians.

The five patients all had histories of substance use disorder, according to prosecutors, and came to Norris with varying reports of pain, for which she prescribed various forms of narcotics, including opioids — fentanyl patches, methadone and oxycodone.

“They were suffering. And they needed real help,” prosecutor Danielle Sakowski told the jury in closing arguments Thursday. “And if there was anyone in Kennebunk, Maine, who could have helped them, it was Dr. Norris. This is her field. She knew what she was seeing and how to deal with it. … But Dr. Norris did not keep these patients safe.”

Prosecutors argued that Norris “buried her head in the sand,” ignoring when patients failed drug tests and when pharmacists refused to fill her prescriptions. They said Norris had also received warnings from insurance providers about prescribing dangerous combinations of opioids, sedatives and stimulants.

Norris’ defense attorneys countered the government’s narrative by pointing to examples where she helped patients reduce their medication, or where she connected them to other forms of treatment such as physical therapy and counseling.

Her lawyers said the government’s case ignored the complexity of her large patient base. They said Norris cared for people at difficult times in their lives, patients who other doctors might have turned away after relapse or missed appointments.

One of her attorneys, Timothy Zerillo, told the jury that Norris had written these prescriptions with good intentions to get well, which he said was not a crime.

“Her motive is to do good for humanity,” Zerillo said. “Her motive is to do good for her patients.”

Two patients from the prosecution testified in Norris’s defense, along with a handful of others who had been prescribed similar medications. They described a doctor who took the time to listen and meet their various needs.

Norris had been under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration since the summer of 2022 after a pharmacist at Walmart in Biddeford refused to fill Norris’ prescriptions, causing a company-wide lockout.

The Maine Board of Osteopathic Licensing began investigating Norris at the same time. The board dismissed its investigation that October and thanked Norris for her work.

Norris’ attorneys repeatedly emphasized the state board’s decision to uphold their client’s innocence. In an effort to throw out much of the government’s evidence before trial, the defense argued that federal investigators recklessly ignored the state board’s ruling.

They also questioned the credentials of the prosecution’s witness, Dr. Timothy E. King, who reviewed Norris’ patient records and testified that he saw no evidence that her prescription improved her patients’ quality of life. He said she was “opioid focused.”


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