Oklahoma doctor charged with 2nd degree murder in patient deaths from opioids, other medications

by Michael Heygood

An Oklahoma doctor has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with the overdose deaths of five patients who were prescribed “horrifyingly excessive” quantities of opioid painkillers and other medications. Oklahoma officials say that Regan Ganoung Nichols prescribed more than 3 million doses of opioids and other controlled medications between 2010 and 2014, including prescriptions to the five patients who died from overdoses.

Most of the patients who died after taking opioids prescribed by Nichols suffered a fatal overdose within days of receiving hundreds of pills. In many cases, the patients were prescribed opioids along with anti-anxiety drugs or other controlled substance medications, putting them at risk of a combined drug overdose from the interaction of these central nervous system depressant drugs.

In March 2010, Nichols’s patient Debra Messner received a prescription for the opioid painkiller hydrocodone, the anxiety drug Xanax, and the muscle relaxer Soma – a combination that addicts call “the holy trinity”. Messner was found dead six days after she left her pharmacy with a total of 450 pills. An autopsy concluded that she had died from multiple drug toxicity.

In November 2012, patient Sheila Bartels also received a prescription from Nichols for hydrocodone, Xanax, and Soma. Bartels left the pharmacy with 510 pills in total, and was found dead that same day from a combined drug overdose.

Lynette Nelson began seeing Nichols in 2008, and was prescribed multiple drugs by the doctor over the next four years. Investigators said that Nichols had prescribed so many medications to Nelson that they were surprised that she hadn’t died earlier. Nelson passed away from an overdose five days after she picked up a prescription for Xanax in 2012.

Investigators with the DEA – which was investigating Nichols’ prescribing practices – say that the pain management doctor failed to follow “basic fundamental safeguards” in order to protect her patients from suffering a fatal drug overdose. Oklahoma officials and federal investigators concluded that Nichols “either didn’t know or didn’t care what she was doing” based on the massive quantities of opioids and other drugs that she prescribed.

Officials Take Aim Against the Epidemic of Opioid Abuse

Opioid overdoses killed nearly 18,000 Americans in 2015, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Federal and state officials have begun taking measures to combat this opioid epidemic, including prosecuting doctors and drug companies that have played a role in the explosion of U.S. prescription drug deaths over the past two decades.

In 2014, the city of Chicago filed a lawsuit against Actavis, Cephalon, Endo Health Solutions, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and Purdue Pharma over these drugmakers’ aggressive marketing of opioid medications. Since then, many other state and local attorney generals have filed suit against opioid manufacturers for the role these companies have allegedly played in the growth of America’s opioid crisis.

Doctors who prescribe excessive amounts of opioids have also come under investigation for their role in the massive nationwide increase in opioid use. In 2016, a California doctor who made millions prescribing opioid medications to her patients – many of whom suffered from problems with addiction – was sentenced to 30 years in prison in connection with the deaths of three patients from opioid overdoses.

Lawsuit Filed On Behalf of Opioid Overdose Victims

If you or your family have lost a loved one to an opioid overdose, you may qualify to file a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the drug, or the doctor or medical care center that prescribed the medication. The first step in taking legal action is to speak with an attorney to discuss your legal rights and begin the first steps in filing a case.

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have filed hundreds of lawsuits on behalf of patients who have been injured by dangerous drugs or defective medical products. Our attorneys have filed dozens of lawsuits on behalf of victims of opioid overdoses, and have handled more lawsuits involving the powerful opioid medications fentanyl than all other law firms in the country combined.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson is committed to helping patients who have been harmed by the aggressive marketing of opioids by the pharmaceutical industry and the indiscriminate prescribing practices for painkillers of many doctors. Our attorneys have the experience, expertise, and resources to take on any cases involving opioid overdoses, as well as pharmaceutical liability matters involving other dangerous medications.

For more information about the opioid lawsuits filed by Heygood, Orr & Pearson and to find out whether you may qualify to file a case, contact our attorneys by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001. You can also reach us by following the link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few short questions to get started.