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A former Arkansas pharmacist was sentenced to 10 years in prison Wednesday for illegally distributing prescription opioid pills and defrauding Medicare, according to a news release from acting U.S. Attorney Patrick Harris.

Christopher Grant Watson, 44, operated the Perry County Food and Drug Store, which he used to dispense hydrocodone while falsely billing Medicare for patient's claims, according to the release. He entered a guilty plea Oct. 5.

"Christopher Watson was a trusted local pharmacist upon whom his community depended," said Harris, who is the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. "Instead, he helped spread poison and addiction in his community."

In addition to the sentence, Watson was fined $850,000, which includes $54,000 in restitution to Medicare.

Watson's indictment was part of a year-long Drug Enforcement Agency investigation that began in 2014.

The release states that Watson sold tens of thousands of pills outside of the drugstore's regular hours and forged prescriptions to account for the missing pills. An audit of the pharmacy reportedly showed more than 49,000 oxycodone pills missing and more than 72,000 hydrocodone pills missing.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Linda Satter contributed to this article.

Read Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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