A highly-anticipated murder trial begins in Columbus on Feb. 14 for an Ohio doctor suspected of causing nearly three dozen patient deaths through excessive, fatal doses of opioids.
Thirty-five patients died under Dr. William Husel’s care at Mount Carmel West Medical Center in Columbus, and Mount Carmel St. Ann’s in Westerville between 2014 and 2018. The prosecutor initially charged Husel with the murders of 25 patients, but a judge dismissed 11 counts in mid-January.
All the cases involve high doses of a powerful pain killer
Most of Husel’s patients were older and extremely ill. Nearly all victims died within minutes of receiving a single dose of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Medical personnel use the powerful drug to treat severe pain, especially for cancer patients. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
Prosecutors will focus their case on 14 patients who received intravenous fentanyl doses of 1,000 micrograms or more. While an appropriate dosage is different from patient to patient, some medical guidelines say maximum doses should never exceed 100 micrograms.
The deaths reveal a “disturbing” pattern of care
The question many are asking is: How could this happen? Mount Carmel fired Husel in December 2018, and the Ohio medical board suspended his license in late January 2019. The hospital, which Trinity Health owns, conducted an investigation that concluded the opioid doses Husel ordered were “excessive and potentially fatal” and “went beyond providing comfort.”
Mount Carmel has other questions to answer. Namely, how could this disturbing pattern continue unchecked for nearly four years? Trinity Health took further disciplinary action against 30 employees, including two pharmacists and almost two dozen registered nurses who filled the prescription orders and administered the fatal doses to as many as 35 patients. Most had their licenses suspended.
Civil actions continue against Husel and Mount Carmel
The Franklin County prosecutor had never before brought a 25-count murder indictment when initial charges were filed in 2019, and the Columbus police chief called the case a “vile breach” of a doctor’s oath. In addition to the criminal case, Husel and Mount Carmel face multiple wrongful death lawsuits. News reports say the hospital has already paid more than $20 million in damages to the families of 22 victims, while 10 civil cases are still active.
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