Pain Doctor Charged With Second-Degree Murder Of Five Patients
Sheila Bartels, a patient of the Sunshine Medical Center in Oklahoma, was prescribed a lethal combination of drugs. However, when took the prescriptions to the pharmacy, which included a potent mix of Hydrocodone, Xanax and Soma, the pharmacists didn’t question the patient. After all, Bartels had a legitimate signature from her doctor. She left with 510 pills. But, Bartels would not enjoy the drugs for long. Her lifeless body was discovered just hours later and her doctor was quickly wanted for murder.
A medical examiner confirmed Bartels, an opioid addict, passed from drug toxicity. However, her doctor, Regan Nichols, a pain management specialist didn’t seem to care about the woman’s addiction issues enough to potentially save the woman’s life. Instead, she was given exactly what she came for and soon became another statistic, part of the 91 people who die of opioid overdoses daily, as documented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So, some believe Nichols should be convicted of murder.
Nichols, who prescribed more than 3 million doses of controlled dangerous drugs over four years, was arrested on Friday on second-degree murder charges for the deaths of five patients in total. Among the others were Debra Messner, who received 450 pills of the same combination, and Lynette Nelson, who was evaluated by Nichols only once, but somehow continued receiving refills on her opioids over the next four years. All of the fatalities occurred within just a few hours or days after the doctor prescribed them too many meds. She was arrested on Friday and released from Oklahoma County Jail on $50,000 bail.
“I appreciate the effort from everyone who worked as a team and put this case together,” Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter announced. “The dangers associated with opioid drugs have been well documented and most doctors follow strict guidelines when prescribing opioids to their patients. Nichols prescribed patients, who entrusted their well-being to her, a horrifyingly excessive amount of opioid medications. Nichols’s blatant disregard for the lives of her patients is unconscionable.” If convicted, Nichols faces at least 10 years in prison on each of the five counts.
Law enforcement is cracking down on pain physicians across the U.S. In February 2016, another doctor, Hsiu-Ying “Lisa” Tseng, was sentenced to 30 years to life after three of her patients overdosed. Tseng made millions of dollars from over-prescribing opioids to addicts. Drug distributors are also being held accountable. Attorneys in Oklahoma have sued the nation’s top six distributors. The suit claimed the companies are profiting from the epidemic and “decimating communities across the 14 counties in the state.” A lawsuit has also been filed by the state of Missouri against pharmaceutical companies. Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley said the companies have used false evidence to indicate the opioids aren’t as addictive as they truly are. According to the lawsuit, as a result, the companies have “profited from the suffering of Missourians.”
The Oklahoma State Legislature recently voted to create a new Oklahoma Commission on Opioid Abuse, which Hunter will chair. “I’ve got an opportunity as chief law officer of the state to bring focus to what I think is a nightmarish social and health issue and public safety issue in the state,” he said. “When there are cases in which there is clear culpability in which the evidence supports criminal charges that relate to opioid abuse, we’re going to work those cases.”