Appeals panel upholds Muncie doctor’s convictions

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed the forgery and prescription-related offenses for a Muncie doctor alleged to have overprescribed pain medication to patients by using his nurse practitioners’ names to sign the orders.   

Pain management doctor William Hedrick was convicted in 2018 after a jury found him guilty of three counts Level 6 felony forgery after he continued to use a nurse practitioner’s name and Drug Enforcement Administration registration number to fill out prescriptions to patients for pain medication.

Hedrick was also found guilty of three counts of Level 6 felony registration offense for having “knowingly or intentionally distributed controlled substances with a federal or state registration number that is fictitious, revoked, suspended or issued to another person.”

The doctor opened a practice in 2008 specializing in pain management, which at one point employed 250 people and 16 medical providers, including doctors and nurse practitioners.

Numerous pharmacies refused to fill prescriptions signed under Hedrick’s name, based on the “alarming” volume of controlled substance prescriptions being prescribed out of his medical practice and the “dangerous combinations of controlled substances” he was issuing.

Some of those combinations included mixing narcotics with antidepressant medication. Hedrick and his clinic were alleged to have contributed to the deaths of eight people by overprescribing pain medication.

In 2013, the state medical board put Hedrick's medical license on probation over his prescription practice, and in 2014 the DEA seized several patient records from his Muncie office in an investigation against him.

On appeal of his convictions, Hedrick first argued that the testimony of two former nurse practitioners from his practice and a DEA agent that local pharmacies had stopped filling his prescriptions, as well as the fact that insurance companies had stopped reimbursing him, was hearsay evidence and the trial court abused its discretion by admitting it.

But the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in William Hedrick v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-1945, finding Hedrick waived any issue as to the DEA agent and that the trial court timely and accurately admonished the jury to cure any alleged error in the admission of evidence from either NP.

Additionally, the appellate court concluded that there was sufficient evidence to sustain Hedrick’s forgery and registration offense convictions, particularly through evidence presented regarding his use of nurse practitioner Gay Watson’s signature to fill prescriptions.

“Hedrick’s contention on appeal is that he mistakenly believed that he was signing his name to his own prescriptions, and not Watson’s, lacks merit. Hedrick assigned that error to the medical assistants at his practice, claiming that the medical assistants must have generated the wrong prescription, which he mistakenly signed,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote for the unanimous court. “Notwithstanding his assertion, throughout the trial, witnesses reiterated that it is the prescriber’s duty to ensure that all components of a prescription are correct.”

The appellate court added that the prescriptions bearing Watson’s credentials and signed by Hedrick were not isolated occurrences, but rather part of a larger pattern of Hedrick’s practice. It likewise rejected his argument that it would be illogical to use someone else’s surrendered DEA number because a pharmacist would not fill the prescription.

“Contrary to Hedrick’s assertion, if it were impossible for prescribers to use an invalid DEA registration number, there would be no reason for the DEA to further investigate,” Riley wrote.

Finally, the appellate court rejected Hedrick’s request to vacate two of his forgery offenses upon finding neither constituted the same “continuous” offense.

The continuity of Hedrick’s actions — signing two different prescriptions for two different patients seen at separate times and bearing Watson’s name and suspended DEA registration number — does not negate the fact that the acts were separate criminal acts, accomplished by Hedrick’s separate actions,” the court concluded. “Accordingly, we conclude that Hedrick’s convictions do not violate the continuous crime doctrine.”

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