Medical professionals are increasingly facing criminal charges—including murder—when their patients overdose on opioid painkillers they prescribed. One DEA agent says the agency is sending a "message" to "rogue doctors."
A New York doctor is the latest physician to face charges, indicted in the deaths of six patients who overdosed on opioids.
A federal grand jury this week returned a 166-count superseding indictment charging Eugene Gosy, M.D., 56, of Clarence, New York, with a long list of crimes including one count of conspiring to distribute and dispense narcotics resulting in the death of six of his patients, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office for the western district of New York.
If convicted, the doctor, whose pain clinic at one time prescribed more prescriptions for controlled substances than any hospital in the state, according to prosecutors, could face life in prison.
“Today’s charges cannot bring back the lives of those who died, but is a message to traffickers and rogue doctors that their actions have irrevocable consequences. The DEA’s highest priority is arresting and dismantling the largest opioid traffickers, Dr. Gosy being one of them,” Special Agent-in-Charge James Hunt of the Drug Enforcement Administration said in the announcement.
In the face of the country’s opioid epidemic, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says kills an average of 91 people a day, there is a growing effort by law enforcement to hold physicians accountable for patient deaths, with some doctors even facing murder charges. In June, a doctor in Oklahoma was charged with five counts of second-degree murder, after prosecutors said she prescribed opioids that resulted in five patient deaths.
If she is convicted, she won’t be the first. In 2015, Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng, M.D., faced a trial on murder charges for writing painkiller prescriptions that led to the death of three young men and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Arrests and convictions of doctors on opioid charges have dotted the headlines. In August, a 93-year-old doctor in Las Vegas was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in a pill mill conspiracy.
This fall, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, said his department will not let up on efforts to go after doctors and other medical professionals who overprescribe opioids. The government is expanding efforts of its Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, which is designed to combat the overprescribing of opioid painkillers that have contributed to the country’s opioid epidemic, and has assigned 12 prosecutors to focus solely on opioid-related fraud cases in a dozen hot-spot locations around the country.
As well as criminal prosecution, doctors are also seeing licensing boards stepping up oversight of how they prescribe opioids, and some have been hit with lawsuits. An Iowa doctor was accused by the Iowa Board of Medicine of “gross malpractice” after the deaths of patients from overdoses and also faces a lawsuit from the parents of a patient who died in 2014 of an overdose, according to the Des Moines Register.