Doctor charged with murder for prescribing opioids that killed five patients

An Oklahoma doctor was arrested Friday and charged with five counts of second degree murder, after prosecutors say she prescribed opioid painkillers that resulted in five patients’ deaths.

Regan Nichols, D.O., a 55-year-old osteopathic physician who operated the Sunshine Medical Center, is charged with the deaths of those patients, some of whom died just days after receiving large prescriptions, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The pain management doctor was arrested and released from Oklahoma County Jail on $50,000 bail, the newspaper said. Oklahoma’s Attorney General Mike Hunter said in an announcement that Nichols “knowingly prescribed controlled dangerous substances” with an “extreme disregard for human life,”

Nichols’ arrest is part of a growing effort by law enforcement to halt the country’s opioid epidemic, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says kills an average of 91 people a day.

Prosecutors said Nichols prescribed a “horrifyingly excessive” among of painkillers to her patients. She signed prescriptions for a total of 1,800 pain killers to five patients who saw her from 2010 to 2013. The patients later died of drug toxicity.

RELATED: Nearly 1 in 4 Medicaid patients prescribed opioids in 2015

The Oklahoma State Board of Osteopathic Examiners stripped the doctor of her ability to prescribe controlled dangerous substances in September of 2015, according to the Attorney General's office.

The arrest comes amid fears that cuts to Medicaid under the GOP’s plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act could hamper the ability of patients to get treatment for substance use disorders.

RELATED: Addiction medicine experts push back against AHCA’s Medicaid cuts at first opioid commission meeting

Nichols isn’t the only doctor in the news because of opioid prescribing. In Arizona, a Tucson doctor’s medical license was suspended by the Arizona Board of Medicine because of inappropriate prescribing of opioids, according to David A. Ruben, M.D., a psychiatrist who has a history of discipline problems with the board over his prescribing practices, was placed on a summary restrictive status and is prohibited from practicing medicine, the report said. Ruben, who is entitled to a hearing to defend himself against the suspension, said the board’s action was unwarranted.