Animal hospital office manager prescribed herself more than 10G dog cough pills containing an opioid drug

Melissa Paradise couldn’t keep her opioid Eden.

Paradise, 43, of West Barnstable, was sentenced Wednesday in federal court in Boston to time served — one day — and a year of supervised release on six counts of acquiring a controlled substance using a registration number assigned to another person and eight counts of acquiring a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, forgery, deception and subterfuge.

The other person? That’s a veterinarian. Paradise worked as the office manager for an animal hospital and was responsible for prescription records.

She used her position, the feds say, to forge scripts for tablets of a a hydrocodone and homatropine mix — a formula used to treat dogs with a cough, according to Plumb’s Veterinary Medication Guides — using the DEA registration number assigned to the veterinarian she worked for. She also forged the signature of another veterinarian for some of the scripts.

Hydrocodone is an opiate narcotic used for pain relief. Homatropine is the drug that actually targets the cough — it’s an anticholinergic drug designed to inhibit nerve impulses that trigger involuntary muscle movement or body impulses, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“In late 2018 and 2019, federal investigators noted that an unusually large amount of hydrocodone had been ordered by the veterinary office,” the U.S. Attorney’s office for Massachusetts wrote in a statement. “In June 2019, the investigators conducted an audit at the animal hospital.”

Paradise copped to her scheme on the day of the audit, the feds say.

According to the May 27, 2021 indictment in the case, Paradise prescribed herself a total of 103 bottles of the dog cough medicine across 14 dates spanning October 2016 and May 2019. Each bottle contained 100 5 mg tablets — which she ordered in batches of six to eight bottles at a time — for a total of 10,300 tablets.

Opioid abuse and death continues to rise both in the United States as a whole and in Massachusetts. There were 149,663 deaths throughout the United States in 2021, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control, accounting for both true opioids and synthetic opioids like methadone — a drug class that makes all others pale in comparison for the deadly havoc it has caused in this country.

In Massachusetts, a total of 4,436 people died from opioids over the same period. The CDC states in its data that these figures are all underrepresented due to incomplete data, which means the numbers could be higher.

Courtesy / Centers for Disease ControlA chart issued by the Centers for Disease Control showing the rising trend of drug deaths, and especially opioid deaths, in the United States. It shows nearly 150,000 people died in 2021 from opioid use. (Courtesy / Centers for Disease Control)
Courtesy / Centers for Disease ControlThis chart issued by the Centers for Disease Control shows that 4,436 people died in Massachusetts in 2021 from opioid use. (Courtesy / Centers for Disease Control)