Doctor faces charges over opioid prescriptions and 5 patient deaths

MOUNT CARMEL, Pa.– A Pennsylvania doctor was indicted Thursday on 19 counts, including charges related to the deaths of five patients to whom he had prescribed opioids, according to the Department of Justice. It alleges that Dr. Raymond Kraynak caused the deaths between 2013 and 2015 by “unlawfully distributing and dispensing controlled substances” to the five.

Prosecutors also say Kraynak prescribed nearly 3 million doses of opioids from January 2016 through July.

Kraynak, 60, of Mount Carmel was arrested Thursday. Prosecutors say he made a first appearance before a federal magistrate Thursday and was scheduled to appear Friday morning for a bail hearing in federal court.

He will plead not guilty, public defender Thomas Thornton said. Kraynak treats people in a small part of Pennsylvania where they don’t have doctors, Thornton said.

“At this point we really haven’t had a chance to see the evidence against him,” his attorney said. “We’re more concerned about his patients right now.”

The US attorney’s office alleges that Kraynak was the top prescriber in the state for opioids, writing ones for about 2.7 million doses of oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxycontin and fentanyl within 19 months. Those prescriptions were written for about 2,838 patients.

“The sheer number of pills prescribed in this case is staggering,” US Attorney David Freed said in a statement. “Death or serious injury was the inevitable result of this defendant’s conduct.”

Prosecutors allege that Kraynak had prescribed the drugs “without conducting a proper medical examination, inadequately verifying the patient’s medical complaint, and failing to assess the risk of abuse by individual patients.”

Kraynak is facing 19 charges, including five counts of the unlawful distribution and dispensing of a controlled substance resulting in death, 12 counts of prescribing controlled substances outside the usual course of professional practice and two counts of maintaining drug-involved premises at his offices in Mount Carmel and Shamokin, Pennsylvania.

It’s not unprecedented for a doctor to be charged with causing the death of a patient through prescriptions. There have been similar cases in the past several years where doctors were held accountable in the deaths of patients who overdosed on opioid painkillers that had been prescribed.

In 2015, a doctor in Southern California was convicted of second-degree murder for the overdose deaths of three patients. She was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison.

In the Kraynak case, the government seeks the forfeiture of two medical offices, his medical license and $500,000, according to a DOJ statement announcing the indictment.

If convicted, Kraynak faces a mandatory 20 years to life in prison for each of the counts involving the five patients. The other 14 charges are each punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

The charges were the result of an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration with assistance from state and local police.

Kraynak has a license in osteopathic medicine and had come to attention of the state board for his prescription practices. In 2012, he agreed to complete a medical course after prescribing large amounts of “various controlled substances” to seven patients from January 2007 through June 2008. The record does not identify what he had prescribed. The State Board of Osteopathic Medicine fined Kraynak $2,500.

The United States is in the throes of an opioid epidemic as more Americans have become dependent or abuse prescription pain pills and street drugs. More than 63,600 lives were lost to drug overdose in 2016, marking the most lethal year yet of the drug overdose epidemic, according to a report released this week.