Roy Exum: The Deadly ‘Holy Trinity’

Monday, June 26, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

If you have grown tired and calloused to America’s horrifying opioid epidemic, please consider what the epidemic has become. A report last week found that, in the United States, emergency room cases including opioid abuse jumped a staggering 99 percent between 2009 and 2014. It is believed that last year over 60,000 Americans died from drug overdoses and – far worse – more than 2 million Americans are dependent on opioids. Worst of all? 95 million Americans used prescription opioids last year.

As the battle intensified, three District Attorneys in upper East Tennessee filed a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies last week, but the show-stopper came in Oklahoma City on Friday. Dr. Regan Ganoung Nichols was arrested and charged with five counts of second-degree murder for prescribing what is believed to be “The Holy Trinity.”

In the Christian world ‘The Holy Trinity’ is the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. In prescription drug abuse its names are similar to a narcotic opioid (hydrocodone, fentanyl, morphine, oxycodone,) a muscle-relaxing barbiturate (phenobarbital, pentobarbital [Nembutal], secobarbital [Secona]),) and an anxiety drug such as Alprazolam (Xanax.) The user mixes them in often a deadly combination.

There is evidence that on Nov.  21, 2012, Sheila Bartels, age 55, walked out of the Sunshine Medical Center in Oklahoma with prescriptions for a lethal recipe that is now the rage of those who are dying. It has been reported Bartels was prescribed the powerful painkiller Hydrocodone, the anti-anxiety medication Xanax and a muscle relaxant known as Soma.

Bartels took three prescriptions written by Dr. Nichols to the in-house pharmacy at the Sunshine Medical Center – a reputed pill mill – and received 510 pills. She didn’t take them all because hours later Bartels was found dead. The autopsy showed the reason for death was “multiple drug toxicity.” There are now an average 90 people who now die from drug toxicity every day in the United States.

An investigation, spurred by the fact more people who are between 50 and 60 are the most by age group who are dying, revealed Dr. Nichols had four other patients who died from the same prescriptions and she was jailed before posting a $50,000 bond over the weekend.

The case against Dr. Nichols is pretty convincing. Investigators have found that between 2010 and 2014 – when her license was revoked, Dr. Nichols prescribed over 3 million doses in what is believed to have been a dangerous and careless manner.

At a Friday press conference, Mike Hunter, the Attorney General for the State of Oklahoma, told reporters, “I appreciate the effort from everyone who worked as a team and put this case together. The dangers associated with opioid drugs have been well documented and most doctors follow strict guidelines when prescribing opioids to their patients,” he said.

He added, “Nichols prescribed patients, who entrusted their well-being to her, a horrifyingly excessive amount of opioid medications. Nichols' blatant disregard for the lives of her patients is unconscionable.”

In Tennessee, where the latest statistics available show opioids contributed to 72 percent of the state's 1,451 overdose deaths in 2015, the legislature is now urging Tennessee Attorney General  Herbert Slattery to join a growing number of states that are suing drug manufacturers. After all, Tennessee is the No. 2 state in the U.S. that prescribes opioid drugs.

Get this -- according to best-guess estimates, the population of Tennessee is 6.6 million and the population of Minnesota is 5.4 million. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tennessee’s oxycodone prescription rate is 22 times that of Minnesota’s. Its nuts!

Doctors licensed in Tennessee wrote more than 7.8 million opioid prescriptions in 2015, according to Tommy Farmer, who heads the Drug Task Force for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. That’s 1.18 prescriptions for every man, woman and child in the state, making Tennessee No. 2 in the nation among all states for the number of opioid prescriptions.

Chattanooga physician Mitch Mutter, now an Assistant Medical Director for the state who could be a superb pick as the Commissioner under the next governor, has worked in tandem with the TBI in heroically tackling the No. 1 killer of people ages 50-to-60 in the United States but fears our nation will soon go from epidemic to pandemic (prevalent nation-wide). And as the battle against illicit prescription drugs starts putting physicians in jail for second-degree murder, heroin abuse is expected to rocket sky high.

Heroin overdoses, with almost 15,000 deaths in 2015, are unbelievable. According to the National Institute of Health, from 2002 to 2015 there was a 6.2-fold increase in the total number of deaths. The CDC has proof heroin overdoses that cause death doubled between 2010 and 2012, but now it is rising so fast no one is certain.

But a best guess by the New York Times earlier this month is that deaths from drug abuse rose 19 percent between 2015 and 2016. Overdose is now the leading cause of death for all Americans under the age of 50.

How can any of us ever get used to hearing that?

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