The unusual murder case against Dr. Narendra K. Nagareddy has taken another turn.
The Clayton County psychiatrist who stands accused in the overdose deaths of patients has been re-indicted — again. The Clayton County district attorney's office first indicted the doctor on a slew of charges in 2016, including the overdose deaths of three patients. Last year, the county dismissed the first indictment and issued a new one adding three more felony murder charges against the doctor with a new indictment.
Now, Nagareddy has been charged once again in a new indictment that still accuses him of causing the deaths of six patients between 2011 and 2015. But the latest indictment contains fewer counts related to improper prescribing. The 2017 indictment included a total of 71 charges. The doctor now faces 62 charges.
Like the last indictment, the latest one also accuses the doctor of sexual assault by a psychotherapist against a patient.
“We will attack this indictment just as we have the other two,” said Steven Frey, one of the attorneys representing Nagareddy. “He’s not guilty of this or anything else.”
Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson declined to comment on the new indictment.
But the defense said the series of indictments raises questions about the strength of the case against the doctor.
“The many indictments do not reflect the discovery of more allegations,” Frey said. “Rather, it is the state’s inability to support its theories with provable facts.”
In the Clayton County case, the prosecution is accusing the doctor of prescribing powerful opioid medications — hydrocodone, oxycodone and methadone — for no legitimate medical purpose and outside the scope of the psychiatrist’s practice. He is also accused of post-dating prescriptions. The prescriptions are the basis of dozens of felony drug charges.
In the cases of six patients, the charges say, the doctor caused the death of the patients by writing illegal prescriptions that led to overdoses.
Audrey Austin is one of the patients whose death Nagareddy is accused of causing.
A civil suit filed by Austin’s husband says that the woman had been a patient of Nagareddy’s since 2008, but had not been to his office for several months while she was in rehab to deal with addiction issues. She went back to the psychiatrist in 2014 after leaving rehab, the suit says, and the doctor gave her prescriptions for Xanax, a strong sedative, and Methadone, which is a narcotic. The suit also says she was given a prescription for amphetamine pills.
Austin overdosed in 2014, the day after receiving the prescriptions from the doctor. She was placed on life support and died two days later, the suit says.
Clayton County prosecutors aren’t the first to try to connect the dots between a doctor’s prescribing habits and overdose deaths.
In 2015, a California jury convicted Dr. Hsiu-Ying “Lisa” Tseng in the deaths of three patients who overdosed as a result of rampant overprescribing. Tseng, a general practitioner, gave out prescriptions for pain pills without proper medical evaluations and to patients who admitted they were addicts. Tseng kept prescribing improperly, the prosecution said, even after being told repeatedly by authorities that patients had overdosed.
In the Clayton County case, the deaths that Nagareddy is accused of causing in 2011 include Cheryl Pennington, Paul Pennington, Richard Moore and Lauren McCollum. In addition to Austin’s death in 2014, the doctor is also accused in the 2015 death of David Robinson.
Nagareddy’s attorneys have argued from day one that the doctor was running a legitimate practice and that he was trying to properly treat the patients who came to him for help.
The Georgia Composite Medical Board, which licenses and disciplines doctor, had never publicly disciplined Nagareddy before his arrest in 2016, according to the board’s website. Nagareddy agreed in 2016 to a suspension of his medical license while the criminal case is pending.
With overdose deaths related to opioids rising in Georgia, Attorney General Chris Carr announced last year the creation of the Statewide Opioid Task Force. High prescribing of highly addictive medications is one of the issues that the task force was created to address. Carr said last year that during a recent 12-month period, the total number of opioid doses legally prescribed to Georgia patients surpassed 541 million — roughly 54 legal doses for every adult and child in the state.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com