In a case you’re sure to read more about in the coming months, a Columbus, Ohio physician who practiced at Mount Carmel West Hospital in the downtown area of the state capital is being accused of overdosing as many as 34 patients over the course of three years (2015-2018) with the powerful synthetic opioid, fentanyl.
As the criminal investigation into Dr. William Husel is in its early stages, it’s unclear as to whether the doctor purposefully or negligently ordered the lethal doses of the drug often used in hospital emergency departments and intensive care units.
So far, nine wrongful death claims have been filed in this matter.
Deadly Drug When in the Wrong Hands
Fentanyl has been in the news in recent years as being the sole cause of or a contributing factor in the increasing number of drug-related overdoses in central Ohio and around the country. While those stories usually focus on fentanyl made outside of the United States in countries that then legally ship the potent drug to U.S. buyers, this story is different because people went to a hospital they trusted for live-saving measures, and instead, they died—much too prematurely in many cases, according to wrongful death lawsuits being already being filed against Husel, other employees who may have been involved, and the hospital, itself.
Husel allegedly ordered doses of fentanyl for critical patients as high as 1,000 micrograms per one dose; the usual amount of fentanyl ordered in emergent medical cases is 100 micrograms, for most average-sized adults under mostly typical circumstances. Higher doses of fentanyl may be ordered with patients who have a history of taking the drug due to terminal illness or opioid abuse, but 1,000 micrograms of the drug is clearly an excessive amount sure to be lethal, according the medical and legal experts involved in Husel’s case.
How Did the System Fail?
While it is much too early in the criminal investigation to know what happened from the time Husel ordered the drug to the time the patients died, there is some information that has come to light early on including the fact that Mount Carmel West Hospital, one of the largest health systems in Ohio, has multiple safeguards in place that should have prevented the lethal doses of fentanyl from being administered.
In most emergency rooms and ICU’s in the U.S. today, a doctor orders a drug, in this case, fentanyl, and the order electronically goes to the pharmacist, who is usually in another part of the hospital. The pharmacist is supposed to thoroughly review the order, and if the order is approved, the patient’s nurse receives an order to administer the drug to the patient. When the nurse gets the order for the drug, an automated dispensing system ensures the correct amount is given to the nurse for proper administration. With this process, there are several stages between the doctor deciding what drug to order and the patient receiving the drug.
So, what happened here? How did so many people not catch the lethal doses of fentanyl that were being prescribed by Dr. William Husel? With so many people seeing that the fentanyl doses were lethal, how did the drug make it to the patients?
Pending Criminal Investigation
Mount Carmel West Hospital fired Husel on December 5, 2018, but prior to his firing, it’s alleged that the hospital had received at least three reports that people were dying at the hands of this doctor. The first report came in October, and the third report came at the end of November. Since the third formal complaint was made, 20 other hospital employees including pharmacists and nurses, have been fired or suspended pending the criminal investigation, which could take years.
On January 25, 2019, the State Medical Board of Ohio voted to suspend Husel’s license as the Board determined there was “clear and convincing evidence that Husel violated state law and that allowing him to continue practicing would present a danger of immediate and serious harm to the public.” The suspension order also stated that Husel asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when asked by the Board if he administered fentanyl or fentanyl combined with midazolam (Versed) for the purpose of ending patient lives.
It remains to be seen whether this doctor is a modern-day Jack Kevorkian, a serial killer with a medical license, or a criminally incompetent doctor who is responsible for the deaths of at least 34 people.