82-year-old Manhattan doctor, Martin Tesher, was found guilty in federal court on 10 counts of unlawful distribution of oxycodone, a narcotic painkiller, without a legitimate medical purpose. After one of Dr. Tesher’s patients was found dead from an overdose of oxycodone and fentanyl, which Tesher had prescribed him just two days prior, local authorities as well as the DEA became suspicious of medical negligence. Investigations yielded that Tesher had written over 14,000 prescriptions for oxycodone from 2012 to 2017 – that equates to over 2.2 million pills, which is a wildly inappropriate amount for a general practitioner who does not specialize in pain management.
Tesher was arrested in the summer of 2017, a year after the overdose fatality, and the case continued to be built against him. Evidence was found that Tesher was prescribing these powerful and addictive painkillers to patients who did not have medical conditions that warranted the use of opioids; once Tesher realized that they were currently addicted to drugs or struggled with past substance abuse by accounts from the patients themselves or drug tests that were positive for illicit substances, he didn’t hesitate from writing up the prescriptions and continuing to refill them for years. Tesher is facing 20 years to life in prison.
The Painkiller Problem
The American people account for around 5% of the entire world population, yet we consume 80% of the prescription opioids on the planet. In 2016, there were 214,881,622 opioid prescriptions written in the US, which averages out to 66.5 prescriptions per 100 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Shockingly, 2016 actually had the lowest total prescriptions and rate – we reached a peak in 2012 with 255,207,954 prescriptions and a rate of 81.3 per 100 people. With that massive amount of opioids in American homes putting us at risk for addiction and accidents, there is no wonder as to how we have an opioid epidemic on our hands.
The CDC also reported that prescription opioids were a factor in over 40% of the opioid overdose fatalities in 2016. These statistics show that nearly 46 people die every single day from a prescription opioid overdose in America. Many of us may be under the impression that we are not susceptible to addiction or fatality because we are prescribed these drugs by a doctor or using them as directed; those circumstances do not make these opioids less lethal or addictive as we have seen in the case of Dr. Tesher’s patients and the nationwide statistics. There is clearly a painkiller problem in our country and we must continue to take action against these deadly substances.
Sending a Message
The conviction of Dr. Tesher is a big win in the war against the opioid epidemic as it sends a message to other doctors who may be writing fraudulent prescriptions that this type of “high-class” drug dealing will not be tolerated. Much of the blame for the opioid epidemic has been placed on major pharmaceutical companies and lawsuits have been filed against them for shady advertising practices and dishonest information about their products. Cases leading to sentencing that specifically target doctors and hold them accountable have been few and far between.
There have been similar lawsuits filed against celebrity doctors after an overdose, such as Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson’s prescribing physician, which did lead to a conviction, but that outcome was rare. These lawsuits usually don’t make it very far in the legal process since many doctors are covered by insurance and immune from legal consequences for a patient who does not take their medication as prescribed. However, more and more loved ones of overdose victims have been taking legal action against doctors, which can lead to investigations and convictions for related crimes, such as the case with Dr. Tesher. The more prescription pads we can get out of the hands of grossly negligent doctors who are contributing to the opioid epidemic and abusing the healthcare system and patients, the better.