Doc­tor charged with killing five women by opi­oid pre­scrip­tion.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

An Ok­la­homa doc­tor ac­cused of pre­scrib­ing a “hor­ri­fy­ingly ex­ces­sive” amount of painkillers was charged with mur­der Fri­day, a pi­o­neer­ing pros­e­cu­tion that re­flects na­tion­wide ef­forts to stamp out the opi­oid cri­sis.

Ok­la­homa At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mike Hunter said Re­gan Ni­chols, an os­teo­pathic physi­cian, showed ex­treme dis­re­gard for hu­man life in pre­scrib­ing a to­tal of 1,800 pain pills to five pa­tients who died from drug tox­i­c­ity af­ter they saw Dr. Ni­chols at a Mid­west City clinic from 2010 to 2013.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors who re­viewed her pa­tients’ files said the pre­scrip­tions were far over the line or had no med­i­cal ba­sis, ac­cord­ing to court pa­pers.

“The dan­gers as­so­ci­ated with opi­oid drugs have been well-doc­u­mented, and most doc­tors fol­low strict guide­lines when pre­scrib­ing opi­oids to their pa­tients,” Mr. Hunter said. “Ni­chols prescribed pa­tients, who en­trusted their well-be­ing to her, a hor­ri­fy­ingly ex­ces­sive amount of opi­oid med­i­ca­tions. Ni­chols’ bla­tant dis­re­gard for the lives of her pa­tients is un­con­scionable.”

The mur­der charges are filed as Pres­i­dent Trump, Congress, and state and lo­cal of­fi­cials try to get con­trol of an opi­oid epi­demic that kills tens of thou­sands of Amer­i­cans each year. Many peo­ple who over­dose on heroin or pow­er­ful syn­thetic opi­oids be­come hooked on pre­scrip­tion painkillers first.

Pub­lic at­tor­neys in­creas­ingly are tak­ing peo­ple in­volved in the sup­ply chain to court, though typ­i­cally through civil law­suits, so Mr. Hunter’s push on the crim­i­nal side stands out.

Richard C. Aus­ness, a law pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Ken­tucky who tracks the is­sue, said this is the first time he has heard of a doc­tor be­ing charged with mur­der for over­pre­scrib­ing.

“With the opi­oid ad­dic­tion sit­u­a­tion now highly pub­li­cized, it is not sur­pris­ing to see some pub­lic of­fi­cials look­ing to charge doc­tors and phar­ma­cists with se­ri­ous crimes like mur­der and man­slaugh­ter,” Mr. Aus­ness said. “I would ex­pect to see more of this in the fu­ture.”

Fed­eral author­i­ties have pushed crim­i­nal cases against physi­cians and phar­ma­cists whose pre­scrib­ing prac­tices flout the Con­trolled Sub­stances Act, which re­quires reg­is­tered doc­tors to pre­scribe drugs for a “le­git­i­mate med­i­cal pur­pose” and “in the usual course of their med­i­cal prac­tice.”

Mr. Aus­ness said the lan­guage used to de­scribe Dr. Ni­chols’ con­duct mir­rored terms that are used to de­scribe a vi­o­la­tion of the fed­eral act.

“That be­ing said, the state crim­i­nal statute may de­fine sec­ond-de­gree mur­der broadly enough to cover this kind of con­duct,” he said. “Pre­scrib­ing ex­ces­sive amounts of dan­ger­ous drugs is sim­i­lar to drunk driv­ing which causes the death of an­other.”

The five pa­tients who died were women ages 21, 46, 47, 52 and 55, ac­cord­ing to an ar­rest af­fi­davit.

Three of the five were prescribed a deadly com­bi­na­tion of specific nar­cotic opi­oid pain re­liev­ers, anti-anx­i­ety drugs and mus­cle re­lax­ers — a mix known as the “holy trin­ity” or “cock­tail” among ad­dicts.

The son of one of the de­ceased women was also a pa­tient of Dr. Ni­chols’ and re­ceived the same trio of drugs, the af­fi­davit says. The mother and son lived in the same house.

A con­cerned for­mer pa­tient re­ported the doc­tor to author­i­ties in May 2014, the af­fi­davit says.

The Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Ok­la­homa author­i­ties con­cluded that Dr. Ni­chols prescribed 3 mil­lion pills from Jan. 1, 2010, to Oct. 7, 2014.

A state board stripped her of her pre­scrib­ing au­thor­ity in Septem­ber 2015.

Asked if she over­pre­scribed, Dr. Ni­chols told the state board that she be­lieved pa­tients de­vel­oped a tol­er­ance and that they wanted more nar­cotics in­stead of wait­ing sev­eral months to see a pain spe­cial­ist, ac­cord­ing to the af­fi­davit.

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