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Date Posted: 23:31:44 12/17/03 Wed
Author: Billy
Subject: Deadly pills traced to Rockwall doctor
In reply to: Billy 's message, "Online drugs a health risk, officials warn" on 03:29:51 12/16/03 Tue

Deadly pills traced to Rockwall doctor
Painkiller hydrocodone prescribed to California teen physician never met

10:48 PM CST on Wednesday, December 17, 2003

By JEFF MOSIER / The Dallas Morning News

Dr. Bruce Haight had never heard of Rockwall, Texas, until Feb. 12, 2001.

That's when his wife found their 18-year-old son dead in her San Diego-area home from a mix of drugs including morphine and hydrocodone, the main ingredient in the powerful painkiller Vicodin.

Authorities never found the source of the morphine, but the label on the hydrocodone bottle showed the pills had been prescribed 1,400 miles away, by Dr. Robert Ogle.

In addition to running a small clinic not far from the Rockwall town square, Dr. Ogle prescribed drugs over the Internet to people he had never met making nearly $250,000 in seven months, according to the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners.

One of those prescriptions contributed to the loss of Ryan Haight's life. It also cost Dr. Ogle his medical license last week and a $2 million wrongful-death judgment in California earlier this month.

And it's likely to cost him his freedom in January, when he's sentenced for his role in an illegal Internet pharmacy.

"The money is not going to bring our son back," Dr. Haight said. "I'm mostly concerned that he goes to jail."

Neither Dr. Ogle nor his attorneys returned repeated calls for comment this week.

Dr. Ogle and two other Dallas-area physicians pleaded guilty earlier this year to federal charges of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and money laundering.

Dr. Ogle could face up to 25 years in prison and $500,000 in fines when he is sentenced Jan. 14 in U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis' court in Dallas.

Mr. Haight's death and Dr. Ogle's role in it have raised awareness of the dangers of Internet pharmacies, which flood e-mail inboxes with come-ons for drugs such as Viagra but also prescribe dangerous and addictive substances such as hydrocodone Vicodin and Lortab and oxycodone OxyContin and Percocet.

Authorities don't know how many deaths may be connected to online pharmacies, but the Food and Drug Administration has estimated that at least 2,000 Web pharmacies are in operation. Some are legitimate, regulators said, but many hire doctors to approve prescriptions without ever seeing a patient.

The only connection between Mr. Haight and Dr. Ogle was a one-page e-mail request for medication and a questionnaire the young man completed.

The federal prosecutor handling Dr. Ogle's case couldn't be reached for comment. No criminal charges related to the death have been filed in Dallas or San Diego.

Dr. Haight, an eye surgeon, said he doesn't expect to see any of the money from the lawsuit that concluded Dec. 5; he figures much of Dr. Ogle's net worth will be gone by the time he pays his attorneys. But Dr. Haight said the $2 million judgment sends a message to others who use the Internet to sell dangerous prescription drugs.

"We did want to make a statement to other people that it could be financially devastating to them," he said.

Francine Haight, Ryan's mother, said that justice is being served but that "nothing can make up for this."

Along with Dr. Ogle, Drs. Stephen Thompson of Garland and Kenneth Speak of Dallas admitted supplying prescriptions for the Internet pharmacy operated by Clayton H. Fuchs and his stepfather, Eugene Gonzalez. Both of those men, who ran the Main Street Pharmacy in Norman, Okla., were also convicted of illegally selling prescription drugs over the Internet.

All involved in the case are scheduled to be sentenced early next year.

Ms. Haight said the system has worked well in punishing Dr. Ogle but needs to do more to prevent other deaths. She said it's hard to believe the physician was even practicing medicine, given his background.

He had lost his Texas medical license in December 1983, about 2 years after receiving it, for prescribing a controlled substance for a nonlegitimate medical reason. According to documents from the medical examiners board, Dr. Ogle was found guilty of a felony in that case. Details weren't available. The license was reinstated in August 1985 for a 10-year probationary period.

According to records, Dr. Ogle was also convicted on a Dallas County theft charge in 1991. Records indicate he went to jail but don't say for how long.

Gay Dodson, executive director of the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, said online pharmacies that require no meeting with a doctor are little different from street-level drug dealing.

"Prescription drugs are on prescription for a reason," she said. "They need to be monitored closely by a physician."

Both the state pharmacy and medical examiners boards forbid providing prescriptions to patients a doctor has not seen and knows little about. But Ms. Dodson said she lacks enough investigators to track down all the violators in Texas.

Prosecuting domestic violators is often difficult, complicated and time-consuming because of the anonymous nature of the Internet.

And many online pharmacies are based out of the country and out of reach of U.S. authorities.

"It was as easy as buying candy in a grocery store," Ms. Haight said about her son's online drug shopping.

She said that she didn't know what new laws should be passed but that more needs to be done. Without a serious crackdown, she said, other parents are going to know exactly how she feels.

"It's got to be stopped," she said. "This is going to happen to another child."

Staff writer Matt Stiles contributed to this report

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  • Physicians risk their licenses with online patients -- Billy, 23:34:47 12/17/03 Wed
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