Doctor charged in overdose deaths of 3 Indiana patients

Photo of John Sturman via WISH-TV

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A former Indianapolis doctor faces reckless homicide charges in the overdosed on painkillers that he prescribed them, prosecutors said Friday.

Dr. John Sturman, 69, overprescribed narcotics for pain that resulted in the deaths, Marion County prosecutors contend. The patients died in 2010 and 2011 while Sturman operated a clinic at Indiana University Hospital in Indianapolis.

Sturman, who also faces 16 counts of improperly prescribing drugs, lost his admitting privileges at the Indianapolis hospital in 2012 after he failed to complete medical charting and documentation of patient visits, the prosecutor’s office said.

“Overprescribing pain medication is not only unethical, but reckless,” Prosecutor Terry Curry said in a statement. “Addiction to pain medication is a widespread problem, and physicians and medical personnel who enable and endanger addicted patients should be held accountable.”

Sturman was jailed in Danville, Illinois, pending extradition to Indianapolis, according to the prosecutor’s office. Court records didn’t list a defense attorney for Sturman on Friday. The Associated Press left a message at a home phone number in Indianapolis listed in his name.

Derek Atkinson, a VA spokesman, said that because of the ongoing investigation, he could only confirm that Sturman has worked since April at the VA Iliana Healthcare System in Danville.

“We are working diligently with authorities on this situation,” Atkinson said. “The safety and well-being of our veterans and employees is our No. 1 priority.”

Indiana authorities began investigating Sturman’s prescription practices in 2012 after two patients and an addictions counselor filed complaints against him. They found a pattern of him prescribing high-dose narcotics for addiction and not the treatment of chronic pain, prosecutors contend.

The three dead patients’ names aren’t included in court records, but a probable cause affidavit identifies them as women from Indianapolis and southwestern Indiana’s Decatur County and a man from the western Indiana town of Shelburn.

Sturman faces a sentence of two years to eight years in prison if convicted on each of the most serious charges against him.

Indiana University Health released a statement saying it doesn’t comment on active investigations.

Sturman was a doctor in California from 1984 until 2008, when he began working at Indiana University Hospital. He had an active Indiana physician’s license that was renewed in 2013, according to court documents.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, whose office assisted in the investigation, said drug addiction and overdose was a top public health and safety issue.

“It’s imperative that we crack down on overprescribing of prescription drugs that is a contributing factor in the drug abuse epidemic in our state,” Zoeller said.

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