A doctor in Oklahoma has been charged with five counts of second-degree murder after her patients died because of opioid drug overdose.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter has accused osteopathic physician Regan Nichols of being involved in the deaths of five of her patients from 2010 to 2013. The victims' age ranged from 21 to 55 years old.
According to a report from the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's office, all five patients showed high toxicity levels caused by multiple drugs taken. Nichols allegedly prescribed three of the victims with "deadly" and "addictive" combinations of drugs, which included Alprazolam, Carisoprodol, Hydrocodone and Oxycodone.
Overprescribing Controlled Dangerous Substances
The probable cause affidavit stated that Nichols signed off on prescriptions for more than 3 million dosage units of various controlled substances from Jan. 1, 2010 to Oct. 7, 2014. This was based on information gathered by the state's Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control (OBN) through its Prescription Monitoring Program.
Medical experts who examined the files of the victims said the prescriptions that Nichols gave were way beyond the recommended levels and had no medical basis.
Hunter's office said 10 of the patients who went to see Nichols in her clinic in Midwest City during that period died because of drug overdose. She has since been charged with five counts of second-degree murder.
"The dangers associated with opioid drugs have been well documented and most doctors follow strict guidelines when prescribing opioids to their patients," Hunter pointed out.
"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."
In September 2015, Nichols was stripped of her ability to prescribe controlled substances by the state's Board of Osteopathic Examiners. She has also surrendered her credentials to authorities voluntarily.
During the hearing, Nichols was asked if she thought she had prescribed too much medication to her patients. She claimed that her patients had developed tolerance to the drugs that she was prescribing.
When she was interviewed by OBN officials earlier in 2015, Nichols described how she tried to discipline her patients so that they would comply with the agency's drug screen policies. She said she would "fire" or dismiss those who did not follow the regulations. However, she would "unfire" or offer second chances to patients if the drug that they had abused was marijuana.
On Friday, June 23, the Oklahoma County court issued a warrant to have Nichols arrested. She will be held in lieu of a $50,000 bond.
Opioid Abuse In The United States
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of deaths linked to prescription opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1991. More than 183,000 Americans have already died because of prescription drug overdose from 1999 to 2015 alone.
Most cases of opioid overdose deaths involved prescription medications such as Hydrocodone, Methadone and Oxycodone.
From 1999 to 2014, the highest rates of overdose cases were seen among people between 25 and 54 years old. Non-Hispanic whites and American Indian or Alaskan Natives were more susceptible to prescription opioid overdose compared with Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks.
Men were also more likely to die because of opioid overdose than women. However, the CDC warned that mortality gap between the two genders is closing.