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Prescription for Death? OxyContin Doctor on Trial

A Florida doctor has been charged with first-degree murder for allegedly improperly prescribing the painkiller OxyContin to a man who died of a drug overdose in February. Doctor Denis Deonarine was charged with racketeering and with trafficking a controlled substance in an 80-count indictment that remains under court seal.

"We are dealing with the pharmaceutical equivalent of the atomic bomb," says the victim's attorney, Jack Scarola. "From the outset everyone involved in the chain of distribution of this drug has failed to recognize its potency and its potential for abuse."

Now Deonarine--a board-certified family physician--is the first doctor charged with first-degree murder for inappropriately prescribing OxyContin. It's a charge that could carry the death penalty.

But it may only be the latest tactic in the fight against the skyrocketing illegal use of OxyContin--a drug so addictive and so in demand on the street that robbers raid pharmacies for it rather than money. Six states have made it more difficult to prescribe and its manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, faces 12 class-action lawsuits. Still, the case against Deonarine is an unusual one.

"I think it's absurd, and you can you just imagine what the legal implications would be if you start blaming doctors every time a patient abuses a medication that they get," says Richard Lubin, the doctor's attorney.

The patient, Michael Labzda, did have alcohol and other drugs in his bloodstream, but the state attorney argues he should never have had the OxyContin in the first place and that there's only one person to blame for that.

"I don't want this to be any kind of warning shot across anyone's bow. We're not taking on the medical community. We're not taking on the drug . . . we're taking on one doctor who inappropriately prescribed it," says Barry Krischer, Palm Beach County state attorney.

But this case could very well be a warning. Several more OxyContin overdose deaths are now under investigation in Palm Beach County alone, and authorities say not all of them were this doctor's patients.

Richard Lubin discussed the case against his client in an interview with the Early Show.

Lubin says he feels that this charge is meritless. The state is charging the doctor with felony murder--saying that the death resulted from the doctor prescribing drugs. In defense, he will argue that this was not drug trafficking and did not occur during drug trafficking. Lubin will argue: How can this be drug trafficking when a doctor sees a patient and then writes a prescription for that patient?

Lubin thought that the state would have sooner charged the doctor with gross negligence (insofar as the doctor prescribed medicine when his patient had a history of drug possession), but Lubin feels that felony murder is farfetched.

Lubin also pointed out that there is a doctor/patient relationship and it would be outrageous to assume that doctors are liable if their patients ake the prescribed medication with other drugs or alcohol . . . all in violation of pain management agreements.
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