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Statistics: More Oklahomans dying from prescribed overdoses

OKLAHOMA CITY – High-speed chases and the arrest of suspected drug dealers are images that have become all too familiar.

However, you rarely see the arrest of those who wear white coats and sell drugs behind hospital walls.

According to recent statistics from the Oklahoma Poison Control Center, more Oklahomans are dying each year from overdosing on medicine they get from their doctor.

Ann Rodgers said, “It broke my heart, absolutely broke my heart. I miss him more than I miss my husband because he was my son and it’s not supposed to happen that way.”

Her son, Kenny, and daughter-in-law, Dana, died from drug overdoses.

“She was so pretty and she was a nice girl. She just absolutely went the wrong direction,” Rodgers said, flipping through wedding pictures.

After a bad motorcycle accident, Rodgers says the couple needed pain medication during their recovery.

They soon became addicted and were never able to break away from the invisible stronghold the pills had on them.

Dana died in 2003 and the loss was unbearable for Kenny.

“That night, he went home and he overdosed,” said Rodgers. “There was a bowl on their counter and there was just multiple pills in this bowl stirred up together and on the other side were several pill bottles.”

That’s how Rodgers said she learned who their doctor was.

She said, “Yes, his name was on it, on all their pill bottles.”

Outraged and in shock, this mother decided to call the doctor listed on all the bottles.

Rodgers said, “I told him that Dana was dead and Kenneth was in the hospital from an overdose.”

She added, I said, ‘Will you please quit prescribing to Kenneth and will you please get him into a treatment center?”

Rodgers said psychiatrist Amar Bhandary denied any wrongdoing but offered to give her the medicine to administer to Kenny every few days.

Weeks later, Rodgers said the psychiatrist was back to giving her son high doses of pain medication.

Two years later, Kenneth died.

She said, “I do personally blame him, Dr. Bhandary, for Kenneth’s death because he had been informed numerous times that Kenny was abusing the drugs, that he needed treatment in a treatment unit. I begged him to quit prescribing and he refused to do so.”

Recently, dozens of Oklahoma doctors have faced the medical board for allegations of over-prescribing.

In most cases, the practitioners surrender their license in lieu of prosecution.

In one case, a Midwest City doctor wrote a combination of prescriptions for thousands of pills every month to a handful of patients.

Part of the punishment included a 60-day suspension and five years of probation.

However, the doctor still has his practice working in family medicine.

Across the country, drug enforcement agents say there have been more deaths related to overdosing on pain pills than car accidents and other drug deaths combined.

Those statistics leave many wondering why doctors aren’t treated like common drug dealers.

Richard Salter, with the Drug Enforcement Agency, said, “Building a case against them and convincing a jury of 12 people that this person who took an oath to save lives is actually killing people, is a difficult thing.”

He said the lure isn’t just for those who are asking for the drugs but it is also for those who write the prescriptions.

Salter said, “They’re doing it for the same reason the drug traffickers do it. It’s out of greed. There’s a lot of money, a lot of addicts out there and it’s easy money.”

The problem is only getting worse but Salter said it goes past the doctors.

He said, “When I was growing up, you didn’t see advertisements for medications, you didn’t see pain clinics, you didn’t see advertisements for pain clinics.”

Salter added, “These pain pills are pure, they’re pharmaceutical-grade heroin. If we become aggressive in Oklahoma, these doctors will go to other states.”

Something this mother hopes will happen sooner rather than later.

Rodgers said, “I want justice for my son and to stop this from happening to other families.”

Dr. Bhandary is now serving a 30-month sentence for medicare fraud.

The jury could not agree on a conviction related to the deaths of five patients, to whom  prosecutors say he was over-prescribing medication.

In 2012, the Oklahoma Poison Control Center said 61 percent of all overdose deaths in the state were due to prescription pain medication.