Tennessee doctor pleads guilty to over-prescribing opioids and faces 20 years in prison after 5 patients died and 6 overdosed on drugs he gave them

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A Tennessee physician who had five patients fatally overdose in less than a year pleaded guilty to prescribing drugs without medical necessity.

Dr Darrel Rinehart, 64, admitted on Monday that he distributed opioids to patients who didn’t need them on nearly 20 different occasions, The Nashville Tennessean reported.

Health records indicate at least five of Rinehart’s patients fatally overdosed in 2015 and 2016, either partially or wholly because of drugs he prescribed.

Six additionally patients suffered non-fatal overdoses. 

He is now facing up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. 

Rinehart, who practiced internal medicine, ran a clinic in Columbia, Tennessee, for decades before moving to Indianapolis after his prescriptions were questioned.

A joint investigation by The Tennessean and The Indianapolis Star showed that five of his patients fatally overdosed at least partially from drugs he prescribed between March 2015 and January 2016.

Among them was Matthew Blackburn, a 27-year-old father-of-one who was suffering from anxiety and had been prescribed Xanax and Zoloft 

The Tennessean reports that, two days before his death, Blackburn failed a routine drug test because he was also taking Valium, which he had not been prescribed.

Despite signs he was abusing the drugs, Rinehart tripled Blackburn’s Xanax dosage.

He died on March 5, 2015, and the autopsy showed it was due to a combination of   morphine, oxycodone, Xanax, Zoloft and Valium.

Another patient, 29-year-old Ashley Marie Martin, was prescribed a starting dose of 30 milligrams of oxycodone three times a day for her back pain.

That’s the equivalent of 135 milligrams of morphine, more than the 120 recommended by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

A third patient, 48-year-old Ramona Diana Gill, was given prescriptions for morphine and oxycodone to treat her back pain despite Rinehart never performed any imaging to discover the cause of her pain, reported The Tennessean.  

State health records show six additional patients had nonfatal overdose from 2014 to 2016, with one patient – who was prescribed 11 different drugs by Rinehart – overdosing three times.  

The newspaper also obtained an undercover police video from 2016 of Rinehart increasing a patient’s opioid prescription and adding an Adderall prescription without examining the patient. 

He allegedly told state health officials he was unaware safe prescribing laws and that he trusted his patients too much.

‘You always want to do what you could to help people,’ Rinehart told a state medical board, according to The Tennessean. 

‘And, yes, sometimes, people tell you things, you believe them, you trust them, you know them, but you know they’re not always honest…That certainly has altered the way I practice medicine now.’

Rinehart was one of 32 Tennessee doctors and medical professionals charged with crimes related to overprescribing opioids. 

He was indicted in March on 19 counts of distribution. 

His sentencing will take place on July 30, 2020 and will be handed down by Chief US District Judge Waverly Crenshaw Jr, according to The Tennessean.

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