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Jury Finds OxyContin Doctor Guilty

Feb 20, 2002 | AP

Alice Ward considers herself a "collateral victim" of Dr. James Graves, who was convicted of manslaughter for prescribing OxyContin to four patients who died from overdoses.

Ward's husband, Benjamin Ward, nearly died from an overdose of the powerful painkiller prescribed by Graves, and she said she lost him to prison when he got a 10-year sentence for robbing a bank to feed his addiction.

Although she doesn't blame the doctor for causing her husband's addiction, she does blame him for "his cavalier attitude and the way he didn't care what happened to people as long as he got his money."

Graves, 55, was convicted Tuesday of four counts of manslaughter, one count of racketeering and five counts of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance. He faces up to 30 years in prison.

Defense lawyer Michael Gibson said he would appeal.

Graves, who is Florida's top OxyContin prescriber, is the nation's first doctor to be convicted of manslaughter or murder in the OxyContin death of a patient.

"I hope by attaining this verdict that we could assist in controlling the problem of prescription drugs so that it does not become rampant as it has in other parts of the country," said Assistant State Attorney Russell Edgar.

At least two other doctors are facing charges of causing the deaths of patients who took OxyContin. Dr. Frank Fisher is set for trial next week in Redding, Calif., on three manslaughter counts, and Dr. Denis Deonarine of West Palm Beach, Fla., could face a death sentence if convicted of first-degree murder in an overdose death. No trial date has been set for Deonarine.

OxyContin is a synthetic opiate. Addicts get a heroin-like high by chewing the pills or crushing them and then injecting or snorting the drug.

Edgar said during closing arguments that Graves needed money after he was forced out of the Navy and fired from jobs at a Pensacola pain clinic and a state prison. He said the money rolled in as addicted and dependent patients, most paying cash, returned repeatedly for prescriptions.

Graves testified that he was unaware the deceased patients had abused the drug, and he said no one would have died if they had taken it as prescribed.

Raymond Daniels, the father of one victim, said Graves got the verdict he deserved. Army veteran Jeffrey Daniels died from an OxyContin overdose in November 1999 at the age of 30.

It took a "slimeball to take our son away and create a bad name for good doctors," Raymond Daniels said.

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