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sturmanSturman operated a clinic at Indiana University Hospital but lost his admitting privileges in 2012 after failing to complete medical charting and documentation of patient visits.

A VA Illiana Health Care doctor is facing three counts of reckless homicide in Marion County, Ind., for allegedly over-prescribing narcotics for pain management in the deaths of his patients.

Dr. John K. Sturman Jr. — a neurologist and staff physician at the pain management clinic at the veterans medical center in Danville for the past five months — also faces 16 counts of issuing invalid prescription drugs by a practitioner.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry announced the charges on Friday.

Prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Sturman, 69, on Wednesday. After being contacted by Indiana authorities, Danville police found the doctor at a meeting at the VA Thursday afternoon, arrested him and took him away in handcuffs, said Sgt. Josh Campbell.

The charges are the result of a four-year investigation by the prosecutor’s office Grand Jury Division and the Indiana attorney general’s Licensing Enforcement Section and Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. The investigation uncovered that while Sturman operated a clinic at Indiana University Hospital, 35 patients died in his care, and of those, 15 died within 30 days of receiving a prescription from him.

“After our office consulted with their expert witness, we decided to proceed with reckless homicide charges on three of those” deaths, Leffler said.

According to the charges, Sturman “recklessly killed another human … by writing and/or issuing prescriptions” to one patient for methadone, dilaudid and/or valium between May 10, 2010 and Aug. 6, 2010; another patient for dilaudid, xanax and/or fentanyl between July 25, 2011 and Dec. 20, 2011; and another patient for fentanyl and/or oxycodone between July 1, 2009 and Oct. 26, 2011, all “without legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of practice.”

According to a probable cause affidavit, from 2008 to 2012, Sturman prescribed large amounts of medication for patient pain management that was outside the usual course of medical care.

 

After two former patients and a local addictions counselor filed complaints, authorities launched an investigation in 2012, and revealed that Sturman’s prescribing practices did not establish a legitimate medical foundation for the use of high-dose narcotics.

A report summarizing the controlled substances patients were prescribed and the practitioner who prescribed them was reviewed by investigators. It revealed at least three patients died from drug intoxication, overdose or related causes. In those instances, patients had filled a prescription from Sturman within 30 days before death.

The complaint also alleges Sturman demonstrated a prescriptive pattern of high-dose narcotics for addiction and not the treatment of chronic pain. Prescribing practices revealed a large number of prescriptions for medication combinations, including the frequent prescribing of a combination known as “the holy trinity,” a common street term for simultaneous use of benzodiazepine, opiates and soma

“Over-prescribing pain medication is not only unethical, but reckless,” Curry said. “Addiction to pain medication is a widespread problem, and physicians and medical personnel who enable and endanger addicted patients should be held accountable.”

“It’s imperative that we crack down on over-prescribing prescription drugs that is a contributing factor in the drug abuse epidemic in our state,” added Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who co-chairs the Indiana Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Task

Force. “Far too many Hoosier lives are being lost to drug addiction and overdose.”

According to the affidavit, Sturman is board certified in neurology (1979) with a sub-specialty in pain management (2001). He practiced in California from 1984 to 2008.

On March 28, 2003, the California Medical Licensing Board filed a public letter of reprimand against him for failure to obtain supporting documentation for conditions producing chronic pain and failure to document a treatment plan for patient’s addiction to a Schedule IV controlled drug.

In 2008, Sturman joined IU Health Physicians group in Indiana as an employee and began treating pain patients at a clinic located in IU Health Hospital in Indianapolis. He lost his admitting privileges in 2012 after he failed to complete medical charting and documentation of patient visits.

In 2013, Sturman renewed his Indiana medical license. As part of the routine renewal process, he answered “yes” to a question asking him whether he had been disciplined, lost medical privileges at a hospital or been terminated by an employer since his last renewal. As a result, he appeared before the Indiana Medical Licensing Board and stated he had lost his medical privileges at Indiana University in 2012 after he failed to complete medical charting/documentation of patient visits, “a gross” deviation from the recognized standard of care. His license was renewed at the conclusion of his appearance.

On his Linked In page, Sturman said he worked as an assistant professor at Indiana University School of Medicine from February 2014 to March 2015. He said he was hired at the VA in March 2015, and was responsible for multidisciplinary pain (treatment) for veterans in the Illiana area and implementing the Opioid Safety Initiative.

 

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