Across the country, overdose deaths from painkillers and heroin are on the rise. After people get hooked on prescription painkillers from their doctors, they often turn to heroin which is cheaper and easier to obtain. Increasingly, prosecutors are charging pill-mill doctors and their dealers when an individual ends up dead from an overdose. Surviving family members are even charging doctors with wrongful death for their role in handing out the dangerous drugs.
Dr. George Beecher has pleaded not guilty to participating in an illegal prescription drug ring that caused the overdose death of at least one man in New Jersey. The 75-year-old former Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist in Somerset County was allegedly one of nearly a dozen people involved in the drug ring. Seven others have been indicted on other charges related to drug distribution.
According to the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, Dr. Beecher would prescribe powerful painkillers like oxycodone to patients he never treated. Between 2013 and 2015, thousands of fraudulently prescribed pills were later sold on the streets. Jason Stoveken, 30-years-old, was allegedly one of those people who had been falsely prescribed oxycodone and Xanax by Dr. Beecher. Stoveken had overdosed on the drugs and was later found dead in his apartment.
According to first responders, Stoveken died from the “acute combined toxicity” of oxycodone and Xanax. There was no other evidence of illegal narcotics or alcohol in his system at the time. Two days before Stoveken died, Dr. Beecher wrote him a prescription for 90 oxycodone pills. About a week prior to that, he'd written a prescription for 60 Xanax pills.
Even after the death of the young man, Dr. Beecher and Stoveken's own father continued to deal in fraudulently prescribed pain pills. Stoveken allegedly acted as the middleman between Beecher and the accused ringleader, John J. Burnham. According to authorities, Burnham would pay $500 for each 90-pill prescription, which they would later turn around and sell for between $20 and $30 per pill on the street. As part of the conspiracy, prosecutors say Burnham wrote prescriptions for tens of thousands of oxycodone pills.
Attorney General Christopher Porrino is making pill mill doctors a focus for prosecution. “With our new strike team, we're aggressively targeting the pill mills that are fueling opiate addiction and inflicting so much misery and death in our communities,” Porrino said in a statement.
Deputy Attorney General Michael W. King offered a plea bargain to Dr. Beecher, which included pleading guilty to second-degree conspiracy and first-degree strict liability related to the drug overdose death of Stoveken. In exchange, prosecutors would recommend a 5-year prison term for the first charge and a 10-year term for the second offense. Dr. Beecher is otherwise facing up to 20 years in state prison.
If you have lost a loved one due to a pain medication overdose, the Gilman & Bedigian team is here to help. We are fully equipped to handle the complex process of your medical malpractice claim. Our staff, including a physician and attorneys with decades of litigation experience, will focus on getting you compensation, so you can focus on healing and moving forward. Call us today for a free consultation.