Dr. Lucius M. “Luke” Lampton, chair of the State Board of Health and a family physician in Magnolia

One of the most influential doctors in the state has had his medical license suspended for six months for “improperly using his prescriptive authority.”

Dr. Lucius M. “Luke” Lampton, a family practice physician in Magnolia who chairs the State Board of Health, appeared before the Board of Medical Licensure on Thursday morning after investigators found that he had improperly written prescriptions for Suboxone, a controlled substance used to treat opioid addiction.

The suspension was stayed for one year by the Board of Medical Licensure, meaning it won’t take effect provided Lampton completes the requirements of the order, which had not been officially released as of Thursday.

Lampton’s attorney, Katherine Gilchrist, said he had left several pre-signed blank prescriptions in a locked drawer of his nurse’s desk when he was out of town last month, to be used specifically for pre-established Suboxone patients. Lampton is the only suboxone provider in Magnolia.

Gilchrist said that Lampton had been concerned that asking these patients to travel out of the area for refills would make it easier for them to relapse. But she said Lampton now understood this was “a poor judgement call on his part.”

According to the Board of Medical Licensure, when writing a prescription for controlled substances, “a physician shall not pre-sign blank prescription pads or order forms under any circumstances.”

Still, Gilchrist drew a distinction between Lampton’s offense and doctors who abuse prescribing powers for their own gain.

“We want you to understand that his intent wasn’t any ill motive. It was to take care of his patients,” Gilchrist said.

Whether this suspension will affect Lampton’s status as chairman of the Board of Health, which is the governing body for the State Department of Health, is unknown. Representatives from the Department of Health declined to comment on his case, only confirming that Lampton is currently on the board of the department.

Lampton’s prescriptions were discovered by investigators from the Board of Medical Licensure, who had been called to his office on an unrelated matter, which was later dismissed by the state Board of Nursing. After investigators made their discovery, Gilchrist said, Lampton turned himself in to the board.

She said Lampton has already changed how he prescribed controlled substances prior to the hearing.

“He has since made alternate arrangements if (patients) come (to his office) and he’s not available to take care of them,” Gilchrist said. “It will not be easy for them, it will not be convenient for them, but that is what they will have to do going forward.”

As opioid addictions and overdoses continue to rise across the United States, Suboxone, which is the brand name of a form of bupenorphine, has become a popular — if controversial — treatment method. The drug, which combines a synthetic opioid with an opioid antagonist, comes in pill form. It cannot be injected without inducing immediate withdrawal symptoms. The goal was to integrate addiction treatment with primary care.

Proponents argue that the medicine, combined with counseling, can help reduce opioid addictions. But others worry that the drug is still a member of the opioid family and, as such, should continue to be highly regulated.

For the past decade, doctors have been allowed to prescribe it to a small number of patients, as long as they get training from the Drug Enforcement Administration and follow rules intended to keep the drug from reaching the street. According to Gilchrist, Lampton is the only doctor “between Vicksburg and Amite” with these credentials.

Lampton is not the only doctor of the State Board of Health to face charges of abusing their prescribing powers. On Wednesday, the Clarion-Ledger reported that Dwalia Sherree South of Ripley surrendered her DEA license for prescribing controlled substances after she allegedly conspired with a nurse practitioner to conceal the fact that the nurse practitioner was writing prescriptions for a controlled substance without a valid DEA license.

South had not been officially charged with a crime as of Thursday.

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Larrison Campbell is a Greenville native who reports on politics with an emphasis on public health. She received a bachelor’s from Wesleyan University and a master’s from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.Larrison is a 2018 National Press Foundation fellow in public health, a 2019 Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts fellow in health care reporting and a 2019 Center for Health Journalism National Fellow.