DUBOIS – The trial got underway Monday in Clearfield County for a DuBois doctor accused of over-prescribing medications to two patients struggling with addiction, beginning in April of 2015.
In 2018, Henry G. Dela Torre, 70, was charged with two felony counts each of administration of controlled substance by practitioner and submitting claim or referring improper service.
Dela Torre was also charged with two misdemeanor counts of giving controlled substance to dependent person and recklessly endangering another person.
The charges stem from an investigation into the fatal overdose of one of his patients, Rachel Shumaker, on Aug. 21, 2016 at a Punxsutawney residence.
Punxsutawney Police Officer Jeff Winfield testified that he contacted narcotics agent James Embree over Shumaker’s fatal overdose because of the multiple opioid prescriptions at the scene.
He said all the medications were in Shumaker’s name and had been prescribed to her by Dela Torre.
On Sept. 30, 2016, her brother, Randal, also a patient of Dela Torre, overdosed. However, he was administered two doses of Narcan and recovered.
After the second overdose, Winfield said he contacted Embree again, and the investigation was turned over to narcotics agents with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, Diversion Unit.
Embree said a criminal investigation was opened into Dela Torre, whose medical practice was located at 90 Beaver Rd., DuBois, Clearfield County.
He said on Oct. 7, 2016, agents executed a search warrant and seized the patient files for Rachel Shumaker that were maintained as a hard copy and in electronic format.
Embree said when agents from the AG’s Office, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Pennsylvania Department of State spoke with Dela Torre that day, he was glad they were there.
He said Dela Torre related that he’d wanted to contact them for sometime about a “problem patient,” and it was discovered they wanted to discuss the same patient, Rachel Shumaker.
Embree said he made it very clear to Dela Torre that he was under no obligation to speak with them. However, he said Dela Torre wanted to “clear the air” and offer his medical opinion.
He said Dela Torre admitted that he suspected Shumaker abused drugs, and used scare tactics with his patients like respiratory failure, jail time and termination of treatment.
Embree said Dela Torre continued to treat Shumaker more than the average patient, and was well aware there was a problem because she went through her prescriptions very quickly.
In reference to her death, he testified Dela Torre commented that her pain and problems were finally over. “He believed she committed suicide.”
A licensed practical nurse, Sarah Armagost, who used to work for Dela Torre said drug screenings were administered to his patients, and Rachel Shumaker failed virtually “every single one.”
She said Dela Torre was aware of the laboratory results, as well as of one occasion when Shumaker appeared “pretty high” for an appointment at his medical office.
Armagost said Dela Torre was concerned about Shumaker, and wanted her to complete an inpatient drug rehabilitation program; however, Shumaker was “not on-board.”
She said Dela Torre had patients sign an agreement, which required them to pass drug screenings. However, she admitted that Dela Torre didn’t follow his own agreement with Shumaker.
For example, in September of 2015, she said Dela Torre started Shumaker on a prescription for Diazepam because she’d already started abusing Valium with Clonazepam on the outside.
On another occasion, Armagost noted that Dela Torre was aware Shumaker was taking Oxycodone she’d stolen from her mother but continued to write prescriptions for her.
And Armagost said a note on July 20, 2016 related prescriptions could no longer be made because Shumaker needs “inpatient.” However, it was noted Dela Torre prescribed Shumaker Fentanyl two days later.
Under cross-examination, Armagost said Dela Torre cared deeply for all his patients, and she believed he preferred to continue treatment versus completely cut his patients off.
The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday before President Judge Fredric Ammerman in Courtroom No. 1 at the Clearfield County Courthouse. It’s scheduled to run through Friday.