HARRISBURG, PA/January 11, 2018 (STL.News) — As part of an ongoing crackdown on doctors and medical staff whose actions are helping to fuel the opioid epidemic, Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced felony charges against a Jefferson County physician who over-prescribed opioids that caused the overdose of two related patients. One of the overdoses was fatal.
Henry Dela Torre, 68 of Basse Terre Road, Du Bois, prescribed opioid drugs — including fentanyl and oxycodone — to two patients struggling with addiction, starting in April 2015. He is charged with violations of the Controlled Substances Act, Medicaid fraud and related offenses.
“The illegal diversion and misuse of prescription drugs are fueling the opioid crisis in Pennsylvania,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “Our arrests for unlawful diversions are up 72 percent 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 after you.”
Attorney General Shapiro noted studies showing that 80 percent of heroin users began their drug abuse by using prescription drugs. In 2017, Office of Attorney General agents charged 216 persons for illegally diverting prescription drugs, a 72 percent increase over 2016.
With collaboration from Punxsutawney Police, the investigation into Dela Torre began in August 2016 after one of his patients, Rachel Shumaker, fatally overdosed. Officers responding to the scene found multiple bottles of prescription opioids in Shumaker’s name that had been prescribed by Dela Torre.
Attorney General’s agents contacted the pharmacy that filled the prescription. The pharmacy manager said Shumaker was known to have an addiction problem and he questioned Dela Torre about his opioid prescriptions because the doctor was also treating Shumaker with Suboxone. Used to treat opioid addictions, Suboxone prevents painful withdrawal symptoms, and patients receiving Suboxone should not be prescribed opioid-based drugs.
In September 2016, Randal Shumaker, the brother of the overdose victim and also a patient of Dela Torre, overdosed on prescription opioids prescribed by Dela Torre. First responders administered Narcan and he recovered.
A search warrant was executed at Dela Torre’s practice on Beaver Road in DuBois and medical files for the Shumaker patients were recovered. Independent expert review of these files determined Dela Torre “practiced at a level that fell below the standard of care for any reasonable physician.” The expert elaborated in the case of Rachel Shumaker that Dela Torre “was aware of her tendency to overdose and failed to significantly modify his prescribing behavior.”
Dela Torre was arrested today and arraigned on the charges. Bail was set at $150,000. A preliminary hearing was set for February 21 at 10:30 a.m. Dela Torre will be prosecuted by Senior Deputy Attorneys General Jeffrey Baxter and Marnie Sheehan-Balchon and Deputy Attorney General Kee Song.
Since Attorney General Shapiro was sworn into office in January 2017, he’s made combatting the illegal diversion of prescription drugs a top priority. In addition to the dramatic increase in diversion arrests, Attorney General Shapiro appointed Senior Deputy Attorney General Bob Smulktis as the new Director of Drug Diversion to coordinate all activities in the office.
“We are fighting this epidemic on every front – from doctors excessively prescribing opioids to drug dealers on street corners to the marketing practices of pharmaceutical companies,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “It takes a coordinated, multi-disciplinary approach to confront this epidemic, strong law enforcement collaboration, and help from citizens who see wrong things happening. Let us know. Thanks to the help of Punxsutawney Police and a local pharmacist, another doctor will face justice for his role in this crisis.”
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