Dante R. Oreta prescribed the pills that killed his stepdaughter. Despite that, he still believes in painkillers.
In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dr. Oreta, of Greenup, Ky., said his 27-year-old stepdaughter had seen dozens of specialists for a severe curvature of the spine. "Nobody seems to be able to take care of the pain,” he recounted. “I was left to be the only one. And this is my daughter. You understand that? This is my daughter.”
He prescribed hydrocodone, a potent opioid.
Dr. Oreta said that his stepdaughter was also having financial problems, and going through a divorce. "I think she kept her medicine,” he said, “and was saving it, and took it in one dose.”
The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure responded to the death by reviewing records on Dr. Oreta’s prescribing, and found that he had prescribed hydrocodone to 250 patients over 15 months. It barred him from prescribing controlled substances.
That’s been a common disciplinary measure in Kentucky, which has been hesitant to suspend or revoke doctors’ licenses, preferring to put them on a form of probation. “Physicians are a public resource,” said Leanne Diakov, general counsel for the Board of Medical Licensure. “Particularly in some of our rural areas, it’s hard to get health care.”
Dr. Oreta said he would still prescribe painkillers if he was not barred.
“There is no non-addictive pain medicine” for severe pain, he said. “And some cannot work without it. ... What do you want them to do, go on welfare?”
He added that many doctors have been cowed by the prosecutions and discipline.
“I've had cancer patients who can't get pain medicine. Isn't that ridiculous?” he said. “Nobody will prescribe it. [Doctors] are all afraid.”
Read OVERDOSED: How doctors wrote the script for an epidemic. Email the team at firstname.lastname@example.org, and read the OVERDOSED blog for more on the Post-Gazette's investigation, readers' stories, and the latest news about the drug epidemic.