Patient of doctor accused of opioid trafficking testifies at trial

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Patient of doctor accused of opioid trafficking testifies at trial

The key witness in the Dr. Sarah Jones drug trafficking trial testified Tuesday he consumed no more than 60 opioid pills over a month's span, despite tens of thousands of pills allegedly prescribed in his name by his family doctor.

Jones, who was a family physician in Tantallon, N.S., is accused of prescribing 50,000 oxycodone pills, including the formulation OxyNeo, to Merle Chase. She has pleaded not guilty to charges of possession of narcotics for the purpose of trafficking, drawing a document without authority and fraud.

Jones is not in custody and sat quietly in court during Chase's testimony, which took up the entire day.

More than 120 prescriptions written

Crown attorney Josh Bryson introduced Chase's patient records which showed prescriptions were written to him from January 2014 to August 2015, when he entered the hospital for an unrelated condition.

The records revealed that more than 120 prescriptions for opioid pills were written for Chase, as often as eight times a month and for as many as 360 pills at a time. Some dosages were as high as 80 milligrams.

Representatives of a non-profit group that fights opioid over-prescribing were in court listening to the evidence. 

"We have just an overabundance of opioid pills that end up not in the patient's hands but in other people's hands," said Rob Mulloy, an enforcement officer and director the Get Prescription Drugs Off The Street Society.

Jones made house calls

Chase, a 68-year-old retired truck driver, is disabled from pain stemming from multiple accidents and arthritis. He had been Jones's patient since 2010.

He testified Jones would drive from her office an hour away and pick up and deliver the narcotics to the home in Bridgewater where he was living.

The visits were once or twice a month, or every second month in the winter, he said. 

She would fill his pill box and take the remaining drugs and pill bottles with her, he testified.

Patient testified he flushed pills

Chase was adamant he never consumed opioids more than twice a day for a month because he didn't want to get addicted to pills he called a street drug.

He said he was so afraid of getting hooked that he would flush the pain pills down the toilet.

Chase, who has a Grade 9 education, became increasingly feisty and emotional during his testimony, especially under cross-examination by defence lawyer Stan MacDonald. 

Trouble at home

MacDonald pointed out that the woman Chase was living with — Norma Wentzell — also suffered from pain issues and was always around when Jones made her house calls.

Chase testified that Wentzell was physically abusive to him and that she instructed him on what to say to police. 

He also said she would bring Mormons who came to the home into his bedroom and would close the door as she showed them his pain pills.

Chase told the defence Wentzell would direct him to call Jones's office and ask for more of the opiates.

At one point he broke down in tears, frustrated that questions were directed at him and not Jones.

'An important story to tell'

Crown attorney Josh Bryson praised Chase's determination on the stand.

"He has an important story to tell and ... we think he's doing a great job. He's doing the best he can in the circumstances given his background and limitations."

The Crown intends to call Wentzell as the next witness. Prosecutors plan to call a total of about 20 witnesses.

The CBC's Elizabeth Chiu liveblogged from court Tuesday.