Whose Fault Is It? Doctors, Drugs and Death

A hot topic of debate across the country is playing out here in the Dallas area with the arrest of Dr. Randall Wade, a family physician charged for allegedly playing a role in the deaths of six of his patients who overdosed on hydrocodone alone or in combination with other prescription drugs.

The question of who is to blame for the rising tide of drug overdose deaths across the country is one that many grieving families and communities are striving to answer. The desire to find a root cause and to remove blame from the person who died is a natural one. Since the victims are no longer able to answer questions about why and how their drug abuse or addiction progressed, those who are left behind struggle to figure things out for themselves.

In this process, hundreds of prescribing physicians have faced legal charges for the practice of prescribing addictive drugs to patients who come in reporting high levels of pain and/or anxiety. In some cases, it has been a clear case of abuse of power: doctors who prescribe well beyond the normal number of painkiller prescriptions to patients they see rarely and with little to no medical investigation or follow-up care. When doctors sell drugs on a cash basis in or out of the office, or fill and refill prescriptions where there are clear and obvious signs of drug-seeking and abuse, the verdicts almost always come back swiftly: guilty.

But not every case is so clear. When a doctor’s number of prescriptions for painkillers exceeds a certain number, it can trigger an investigation. Many doctors in the crosshairs of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for treating a high number of patients with painkillers believe that these investigations are baseless. They argue that they are simply responding to the needs of their patients and strive to prove that their pain management assistance is medically necessary. Some succeed, meeting the requirements of the DEA, undergoing a probationary period, and lowering the number of patients they treat with addictive drugs. But for those who are surrounded by suspicious patient drug overdose deaths, the outcome is usually a loss of their practices, their medical licenses, and their freedom.

Overdose Deaths and Prosecution in Collin County

Dr. Randall William Wade of Collin County was arrested last month for allegedly prescribing addictive drugs to patients who had no medical need for the medications. He has been connected to six deaths so far by the DEA and is being investigated in relationship to an additional two overdose deaths. The DEA alleges that he prescribed more hydrocodone than any other doctor in the county in 2014. He is also alleged to have heavily prescribed Xanax, a sedative, and carisoprodol, a muscle relaxant.

An agent who testified at Wade’s hearing said that these were three of the most commonly abused controlled substances and that it was “highly unusual” for a family physician to prescribe these medications. It was also noted that several local pharmacies had begun to refuse to fill prescriptions that came from his office. One local pharmacist said that the refusal was based on a suspicion that the patients were “not using the drugs for legitimate medical purposes.”

Wade has been in jail since his arrest, and according to his lawyer, he has surrendered both his license to prescribe medication and his medical license. He faces up to a lifetime in prison and as much as $10 million in fines. His 250+ acre estate was seized as was almost $200,000 in cash held across three bank accounts, according to court records.

Whose Fault Is It?

It is not always possible to know whether or not a doctor’s prescription triggered an addiction that ultimately led to the individual’s death or if the person sought out a doctor who was not paying attention in order to feed an existing addiction. However, in either case, a doctor can and should be paying avid attention, go above and beyond to ensure that patients are aware of the dangers associated with the use of certain medications, and make sure that all other measures have been exhausted in treatment before handing out these drugs.

If you believe that you, or your loved one, are being too easily handed a prescription that could be harmful, do not wait to speak up. No matter who is to “blame” for how it started, if you believe that you, or someone you love, are struggling, you can begin to right those wrongs through comprehensive and effective treatment.