The first person to be charged following an investigation by a new opioid prescription task force is a well-known provider of treatment for substance use disorder in southern Maine.

Dr. Merideth Norris, 52, was indicted on 10 counts of illegal distribution of opioids and other controlled substances. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison.

Norris allegedly wrote prescriptions “that were not issued for a legitimate medical purpose” for three unnamed patients, the indictment states, listing opioids like oxycodone, hydromorphone and methadone, as well as other federally regulated drugs like clonazepam, dextroamphetamine-amphetamine and diazepam.

The indictment, issued by a federal grand jury on Oct. 20 and unsealed Wednesday, does not offer details about why Norris prescribed the medication, or why the prescriptions were allegedly illegal. Prosecutors will have to prove she issued them knowing they were excessive and unnecessary.

Norris runs the Graceful Recovery addiction treatment center in Kennebunk. She graduated from medical school in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, according to records from the Maine Board of Osteopathic Licensure that show she is certified to practice addiction and family medicine.

Norris did not respond to numerous messages Thursday seeking to discuss her case.


She has been an outspoken critic of changes to state law in 2016 that tightened the criteria doctors must use to prescribe opioids, leading to a 40% reduction in people prescribed an opioid since then. In a letter to the Portland Press Herald in 2017, Norris said the changes would lead to “public shaming of physicians specializing in pain management,” and the witch-hunting of “competent pain management.”

“Prohibition didn’t create more sober people, but it did lead to more criminal activity,” Norris wrote. “You know what did create more sober people? The presence of peer support and the advent of recovery communities. You know what creates even more sober people? Connection with comprehensive, integrated treatment programs.”

In an August interview with a friend and Youtuber, Norris discussed working in mental health in Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s, before attending medical school. She said she had many friends who were dealing with substance use disorder. The experience helped propel her to work in addiction treatment and recovery, she said, with an “activist lens” and as a “champion of the underdog.”

The Department of Justice launched the New England Prescription Opioid Strike Force in June, focusing on conduct by physicians, pharmacists and medical professionals.

Opioid prescriptions have declined substantially since the law changed in 2016, while fatal and non-fatal overdoses have continued to increase.

Those changes limited how much medication doctors could prescribe for acute and post-surgery pain or for injuries that would heal over time, as opposed to long-term chronic pain. The law also requires more regular monitoring of patients who are prescribed opioids.

About 105,000 patients were prescribed an opioid in the first quarter of 2016, compared to 62,000 in the first quarter of 2022, according to state statistics, a nearly 40% reduction. Overdoses, meanwhile, have continued to climb. There were more than 9,500 overdoses in 2021, and more than 630 of them were fatal. That’s more than twice the 272 drug-induced deaths reported in 2015.

Although opioids don’t account for all of the overdoses, and it isn’t clear how many resulted from prescription medications, most were opioid-related.

While prescription drug abuse has declined, illicit opioid use has increased, a trend that precedes the 2016 changes to state law, according to Penobscot Community Health Center’s Dr. Noah Nesin. He helped develop Maine’s Controlled Substances Stewardship program, which promotes evidence-based treatment of chronic pain and educating providers on excessive or misguided opioid prescriptions.

“There’s no question that’s the leading cause of overdose deaths,” Nesin said of fentanyl and heroin. “It’s where too many people end up. But prescription opioids still play a pretty significant role in all of this.”


Nesin said he doesn’t know Norris or her case, but he’s concerned it could further stigmatize substance use disorders and treatment, especially so close to an election when addiction policy has become a heavily politicized issue.

“Regardless of the details of the case, I wouldn’t want this to result in people doing this really good work, saving lives, to be painted with a broad brush,” Nesin said. “I do worry that this will be projected upon everybody who’s working to do this work correctly and ethically.”

Norris posted $10,000 bail. As part of her release conditions, she must check in with federal probation officers and is unable to prescribe controlled substances.

On Thursday morning, her office phone directed patients who were receiving Suboxone for medication-assisted treatment to call Better Life Partners, a New England area health company. Steve Kelly, the group’s chief operating officer, said they’ve seen a clear influx in new callers but still have the capacity to accept more patients.

Kelly said Better Life Partners was not affiliated with Norris’ practice and that they were contacted by the Maine Office of Behavioral Health’s “OPTIONS” program for connecting people dealing with substance use disorder to recovery resources.

Staff Writer Joe Lawlor contributed to this report. 

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: