At a time when prescription drug abuse is an epidemic in New Jersey and throughout the U.S., one recent criminal case on the other side of the country has made history. A former Southern California doctor is the first physician in that state ever to face a murder charge for prescribing drugs to patients.

The 46-year-old doctor was convicted of second-degree murder last fall after three patients, all in their 20s, died from overdoses of prescription painkillers back in 2009. Early this month, a judge sentenced her to serve a 30-year-to-life sentence.

In addition to the second-degree murder charge, she was convicted of 19 counts of unlawfully prescribing a controlled substance as well as fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance in 2012. Prosecutors said that the osteopath falsified patients’ medical records to cover up her actions. She has been behind bars since her conviction.

According to prosecutors, the motive was greed, and the doctor made millions of dollars from her rampant overprescribing. They say that she continued to prescribe the pills even after family members of patients instructed her to stop.

Reportedly, other patients had overdosed on medications she prescribed before the three young men died. However, she continued to prescribe controlled substances to patients “in a reckless manner knowing the possible consequences of her actions.”

The former doctor’s attorney, who had asked for the minimum sentence of 15 years, argued that her client had surrendered her medical license and had no criminal record prior to this case. She argued, “It’s never going to happen again.”

In a local television news report in 2012, an attorney who filed five wrongful death suits against the doctor said that she never really treated her patients. He said that she wrote 11,500 prescriptions for controlled substances within the course of just a year.

Obviously, this is an extreme case of a doctor who reportedly had no interest in her patients’ well-being and provided little or no treatment beyond prescribing the drugs. Other cases of overdoses may not necessarily be the result of such egregious malpractice. However, if a loved one dies from an overdose of prescription drugs, their families should seek legal guidance to determine whether one or more prescribing physicians can and should bear some legal responsibility.

Source: NBC Los Angeles Channel 4, “Ex-SoCal Doctor Sentenced to 30 Years to Life in Overdose Deaths,” Feb. 05, 2016