A 73-year-old Upper Moreland doctor has been charged with distributing drugs that resulted in the death of a Florida native earlier this year.
Dr. Norman Werther, 73, is facing between 20 years and life in prison if convicted of all the charges against him.
In August 2011, Werther and more than 50 other people were charged with participating in an illegal prescription drug network. He has since surrendered his license to practice medicine in Pennsylvania, according to state records.
On Thursday, federal prosecutors announced that they had filed a superseding indictment that adds more defendants and dozens more charges, including distribution of a controlled substance resulting in death.
According to the indictment, Werther aided in the distribution of 150 30-milligram pills and 30 15-milligram oxycodone pills, which ended up in the hands of a person identified only as N.B. in court documents, in September 2010. The next day, that person was found dead in his apartment, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The charge of distributing a controlled substance resulting in death is a first for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. First Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis D. Lappen said that is because “typically we don’t have evidence that will prove that the death was caused by any particular drug dealer’s drugs.”
Lappen declined to discuss what evidence specifically led to Werther, but said prosecutors “go where the evidence takes them.”
An assistant prosecutor told KYW news radio that the man was found dead with one of Werther’s prescription bottles lying next to him.
However, one of Werther’s attorneys, David Laigaie, countered that the decedent was receiving prescriptions from several doctors and was found with packets of cocaine in his system, including one that had burst.
Laigaie said Werther vehemently denies the allegations and will enter a plea of not guilty to the amended indictment. He said Werther believes he will be exonerated at trial.
The attorney also said that despite prosecutors’ characterizations that Werther “knowingly sold oxycodone,” Werther wasn’t selling drugs, he was a doctor who prescribed medication.
“(Werther) prescribed various pharmaceuticals, including oxycodone, to his patients, some of whom — unbeknownst to Dr. Werther — were involved in a sophisticated drug trafficking operation,” Laigaie said in a statement.
There are 368 charges against Werther, including dozens of new charges. In addition to the death, Werther is charged with prescribing 450 30-milligram pills and 90 15-milligram pills to Nathaniel Backes between June and August 2010, according to the indictment. Backes, a Florida tennis pro living in the Ambler area, died Sept. 2, 2010.
In the 146-page indictment, investigators list hundreds of other prescriptions Werther wrote to dozens of “pseudo-patients.”
According to authorities, between 2009 and 2011, Werther was running a physical therapy practice in Upper Moreland from which he dealt with six separate groups of drug dealers. Werther allegedly prescribed drugs to pseudo-patients sent to him by drug traffickers, according to the indictment. The patients, who were recruited by the traffickers, paid an office visit fee — usually $150 — and Werther wrote prescriptions of oxycodone-based drugs though the patients had no medical need for them, according to prosecutors. The drugs were then turned over to the dealers, who then sold them on the street, according to authorities.
The new charges bring the total number of defendants in the case to 67. In addition to the nine new defendants, there are four others awaiting trial. Several members of Werther’s staff were charged, as well as a city pharmacist. The remaining 53 have pleaded guilty.
Werther’s trial is scheduled to begin in May.
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Alleged pill mill doc faces more charges, including death – phillyBurbs.com