For about a year and a half, Dr. Fernando Gonzales-Ramos made quarterly trips from his home in El Paso, Texas, to a rundown building in Logan, W.Va. There, for hefty fees, Gonzales-Ramos wrote prescriptions for controlled substances. It took an FBI informant just three minutes and $450 to obtain a prescription for the painkiller hydrocodone.
On Tuesday in federal court at Charleston, Gonzales-Ramos pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance without a legitimate medical purpose.
That is statutory language for running a pill mill. They can be found throughout the United States; West Virginia appears to have more than our fair share of them.
Gonzales-Ramos was no more than a drug pusher - right down to the pistol-carrying bodyguard who came with him to the Mountain State - with a license to practice medicine. Yet he will await sentencing on Aug. 14 in the knowledge he will be spending less than six years in prison, at most.
That's right: The maximum sentence for Gonzales-Ramos' crime is 71 months.
Drug abuse is a deadly epidemic in West Virginia. It is claiming and ruining lives at a terrible rate. Yet Gonzales-Ramos and people like him who are caught can be put behind bars for less time than it takes many people to earn a bachelor's degree.
That needs to change. Congress should rethink - and stiffen - drug sentencing laws.