Pennsylvania physician faces felony charges for overprescribing opioids following patient's overdose death

A coctor writing a prescription
Prosecutors in Pennsylvania are cracking down on doctors who overprescribe opioids. (Image: Getty/18percentgrey)

Evidence continues to mount that government officials are cracking down on doctors who overprescribe opioids. This time, in Pennsylvania, a physician faces felony charges for prescribing opioids to addicted patients. 

Henry Dela Torre, M.D., a DuBois, Pennsylvania, physician, was charged with violating the Controlled Substances Act, Medicare fraud and other related offenses, according to an announcement from the state's Attorney General Josh Shapiro. 

RELATED: Doctors' bad behavior in 2017 included fraud, patient abuse and pill mill operations

Dela Torre began prescribing opioids—including oxycodone and fentanyl—to two addicted patients in 2015, Shapiro said. State officials began investigating Dela Torre's opioid prescribing habits after one of those patients died from an opioid overdose in 2016.

When police responded to the overdose, they found multiple prescription bottles from Dela Torre in the woman's home, according to the announcement. 

The patient's brother also overdosed on opioids prescribed by Dela Torre shortly after his sister's death, according to the announcement, but he was revived by Narcan and survived. A review of the medical files for the two patients indicated that Dela Torre "practiced at a level that fell below the standard of care for any reasonable physician."

RELATED: VA releases data on opioid prescribing rates at its hospitals 

The charges are part of an ongoing effort in the state to enforce harsher penalties on physicians who may contribute to the opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania, Shapiro said.

"The illegal diversion and misuse of prescription drugs are fueling the opioid crisis in Pennsylvania," Shapiro said. "Our arrests for unlawful diversions are up 72% from a year ago, and we've added resources to attack this growing problem. Whether you're a drug dealer on the street corner or a physician, if your actions help fuel this epidemic, we're coming for you."

RELATED: Drug charges, healthcare fraud get doctors in hot water 

The trend of doctors facing legal issues for their opioid prescribing habits extends outside of Pennsylvania. A nationwide investigation found 150 federal court cases since 2016 alone in which physicians were prosecuted for their part in the opioid epidemic. More than 1,000 physicians were disciplined by state medical boards in that same window for overprescribing opioids, and many continue to see patients. 

The charges physicians faced have extended to murder in extreme cases. In Oklahoma, a physician was charged with second degree murder after prescribing opioids that resulted in the deaths of five patients.