Georgia hospital CEO arrested for prescription drug fraud

Michael Gowder, DDS, CEO of 45-bed Union General Hospital in Blairsville, Ga., was one of six arrested by federal agents Thursday as part of a multi-state prescription drug sting.

Dr. Gowder was charged with two counts of fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance and one count of conspiracy to distribute, according to WSB-2 Atlanta

The ring involved four of Dr. Gowder's family members, including his wife, brother, sister and niece. His brother, George, is a former board member and emergency room physician at Union General. Each of these individuals face counts for unauthorized distribution of a controlled substance, fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance or conspiracy to distribute.

James Heaton, MD, a board member and physician at Union General, was also charged with 41 counts of unauthorized distribution of a controlled substance.

Drs. Gowder and Heaton were both arrested onsite, leaving their hospital and practice, respectively, in handcuffs. DEA agents left with "truckloads of documents" from the hospital, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution

Deputies say Dr. Heaton wrote more than 15,000 painkiller prescriptions for Dr. Gowder over a three-year period. Those prescriptions may have been filled in three different states.

The Drug Enforcement Agency led the nine-month investigation into the alleged ring.

Dr. Gowder has led Union General Hospital as CEO since January 2013. Previously, Dr. Gowder served as the hospital's COO for 14 years. He graduated from Emory University School of Dentistry in 1987 and founded a successful dental practice. After he suffered a serious hand injury, he retired from the practice but continued his career in healthcare as administrator of a home healthcare agency before joining Union General Hospital in 1999.

Dr. Gowder is a Blairsville native and lifelong resident of the Georgia town, which is approximately 100 miles north of Atlanta.

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