Virginia Nurse Practitioner Admits Drug Trafficking Scheme

Matthew Justin Sykes, a nurse practitioner who formerly worked at a drug rehabilitation facility, pleaded to numerous charges connected to illegally distributing drugs from the darknet and from unlawfully obtained prescriptions. As a nurse practitioner, Sykes had a valid registration number that allowed him to write prescriptions for controlled substances. While working as a medical professional, Sykes had been selling opioids and benzodiazepines until mid-2017 when the United States Postal Service intercepted a package of alprazolam headed for Sykes’ address.

Sykes primarily worked at the Watauga Recovery drug rehabilitation center in Virginia. Watauga Recovery Center has facilities in both Virginia and North Carolina. He worked at the rehab from 2012 until 2017. Prior to the nurse practitioner role he played at Watauga Recovery Center, Sykes spent a short period of time working at another rehabilitation center called E & C Counseling. By his own admission of guilt, his crimes began at Watauga Recovery Center. They also began not long after darknet markets came to fruition.

Even though the United States Postal Service intercepted only one package that belonged to Sykes, the government had gathered additional information that connected Sykes to a much more elaborate drug distribution operation.

At the rehabilitation center itself, Sykes wrote prescriptions for buprenorphine, clonazepam, and gabapentin. He conspired with several patients during his nine-year operation. When he wrote the prescriptions—often for substances they had no legitimate need to access—the patients received three doses of buprenorphine every day. However, only two belonged to the patient (per the agreements Sykes often made with patients at the rehab). The third dose, according to federal authorities, “belonged” to Sykes. The nurse practitioner had written prescriptions for patients even though he was aware that part of the prescription would be distributed. Given that Sykes masterminded the operation and personally distributed the drugs from outside the cash-only rehab, authorities knew that Sykes had written prescriptions in violation of federal law.

Public records revealed that Sykes had lost his license (or had his license restricted) at some point prior to a 2012 reinstatement. Not long after reinstatement, according to information revealed in his guilty plea, Sykes had launched his drug distribution operation. He had a nearly infinite source of prescription drugs at his disposal at the rehab. Patients filled their prescriptions and then gave Sykes his cut. On some occasions, the Food and Drug Administration reported Sykes filled prescriptions for patients without the patient present. Sykes, alongside other conspirators, often wrote prescriptions under a prescriber who had not even met certain patients for examination.

But not only had Sykes tapped into the supply of prescription drugs available to him through the rehab, he had also ordered Adderall, oxycodone, alprazolam, and hydrocodone from the darknet since 2013. In his guilty plea, he admitted committing the following crimes:

  • Eight counts of oxycodone distribution;
  • One count of alprazolam distribution;
  • One count of illegally prescribing Schedule III and IV substances for interstate trafficking;
  • And one count of using the United States Postal Service in furtherance of a felony drug trafficking crime.

The date of his sentencing hearing has not been revealed. He has, however, listed his DEA license.