A Lehigh Valley woman’s death led prosecutors to a local doctor who overprescribed opioids and other drugs to patients over a 15-year period, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office said.
John Mitchell, a psychiatrist who had offices in South Whitehall Township and Emmaus, was arrested Monday and charged with 13 counts, including unlawfully administering, dispensing or prescribing schedule II controlled substances.
Mitchell, 70, was released on $75,000 unsecured bail. Court papers list a Quakertown address for Mitchell, but his bail records list a Salisbury Township address.
Mitchell is represented by defense attorney John Waldron, who said it has been a lengthy investigation and he would need to go over the allegations and court papers with the doctor before commenting.
Waldron did say while the case centers around 10 patients, Mitchell has treated 3,000 patients and the accusations involve a low-percentage of those he treated.
Mitchell is currently not working, Waldron said, though his medical license was last renewed in November 2020 and is active until the end of this year, according to state license records.
The 10 patients, identified by initials and birthdays, were prescribed drugs from June 2003 through July 2018. The prescriptions included oxycodone, morphine, hydrocodone, hydromorphone and Adderall.
In addition to high-dose prescriptions above FDA recommendations, Mitchell prescribed stimulants to drug dependent patients, did not use urine tests to monitor patients taking schedule II drugs, and failed to count pills, prosecutors said.
In one case, Mitchell allegedly prescribed a patient psychostimulants at three to seven times the maximum recommended dosages over three years, while not conducting drug tests or pill counts.
Mitchell is accused of prescribing Adderall at four times and six times the recommended maximum dosage for two patients, and Ritalin at seven times the max dosage for another.
The death of a 32-year-old patient in May 2018 started the investigation. Prosecutors said the woman was pronounced dead on May 5, 2018 by the Lehigh County coroner’s office.
The woman was found alone in her bedroom with several prescription bottles of medication prescribed by Mitchell, according to court documents.
Pharmacy records for the woman showed Mitchell prescribed her lithium; Vraylar, an antipsychotic; atenolol, used to treat high blood pressure; clonazepam, a sedative; Zolpidem, a sedative; Prazosin, used to treat high blood pressure; trazodone, used to treat depression; and opioids oxycodone, hydrocodone, and hydromorphone.
Investigators then reviewed the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program and said they found 15 of Mitchell’s patients prescribed a high amount of opioids or stimulants.
Agents raided Mitchell’s South Whitehall office on July 27, 2018, and patient records were sent to Dr. Stephen Thomas, an expert in pain management, so he could review the prescriptions, court records say.
Records show the patient who died was involved in multiple incidents of driving under the influence, and there were several incidents in which she tried to refill prescriptions before the refill date, investigators said.
Mitchell allegedly did not perform pill counts and there were few urine tests for the patient. Of the urine tests, all were negative for opiates when they should have been positive based on her prescriptions, authorities said. One test was positive for THC and benzodiazepine, a depressant not prescribed by Mitchell, according to court papers.
Documents show Mitchell was already known to state officials for overprescribing drugs to patients.
Under a consent agreement filed in February 2018, Mitchell stipulated to providing five patients at his South Whitehall office with more than the 70mg maximum dosage of Vyvanse, a stimulant, in addition to simultaneous prescriptions without documentation.
Mitchell was ordered to pay the costs of the investigation, $3,500 and successfully complete 30 hours of remedial education, or face a medical license suspension.
Separately, in 2006, Mitchell’s admitted engaging in a personal and romantic relationship with a female patient, prescribing her medication and failing to maintain medical records for her care. His license was suspended, but the suspension was stayed for three years and he was put on probation so he could complete continuing education courses and pay a $7,000 penalty.
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