Barred Hospice Doctor’s Narcotics Orders Refused by Pharmacists

A Pittsburgh doctor whose office was raided by government agents prescribed such “massive” dosages of narcotics that some drug stores refused to fill his orders, according to the owners of local pharmacies.

People who came in with prescriptions written by Oliver H. Herndon seemed too healthy to need large amounts of potent painkillers, said Adam Rice, who owns five Spartan Pharmacy stores. Rice said he and more than a dozen pharmacists conferred and agreed about six months ago not to fill his prescriptions. Timothy Davis, the owner of Beaver Health Mart Pharmacy in a Pittsburgh suburb, said he stopped honoring them after trying to verify a prescription with the doctor’s office.

One Sept. 8, 2009, slip signed by Herndon for a 45-day supply of Oxycontin -- 360 80-milligram tablets -- for a hospice patient named Gary Groomes included a note saying “special dosing” in parenthesis.

“That’s typical of the prescriptions we saw out of his office,” Rice said. “You don’t have to be a pharmacist to know that’s an outrageous amount of narcotic medication.”

Agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Pennsylvania attorney general’s office searched Herndon’s office Feb. 14 and served him with a suspension order barring him from prescribing controlled substances, such as Oxycontin and Percocet. While not arrested or charged, he is the subject of an “ongoing” investigation, according to Gary Davis, the assistant special agent in charge of the DEA’s Pittsburgh office.

Tougher Regulations

Herndon didn’t respond to a message left with his answering service. An internist who is board certified in hospice and palliative medicine, according to his website, Herndon, 40, is the corporate medical director of Horizons Hospice of Pittsburgh, and the medical director of four nursing homes.

He was featured in a Bloomberg News story about his care of Groomes, who became addicted to narcotics while spending nearly three years in hospice care, according to his family and medical records. Groomes died at 52 last August, 10 months after he was discharged from hospice and dropped by Herndon as a patient, according to Groomes’ wife, Donna.

Herndon increased his narcotics to 2,880 milligrams a day, or 14 times what he took before he was on hospice, according to the records. The drugs included oxycodone, Oxyfast and Roxanol.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed new rules for opioid narcotics, synthetic painkillers that act on the same brain receptors as opium. They are widely misused, according to the FDA’s website, which says a 2007 survey found more than half of abusers got them from a friend or relative.

The FDA proposal is to require manufacturers to distribute educational materials with opioid narcotics; doctors and nurses would have to undergo special training. The agency considered registries to track doctors who prescribe the drugs and patients who use them until the hospice and pain-management industries opposed the idea.

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