COLUMBIA CITY — Nearly a year after South Whitley doctor James Hanus was arrested for allegedly overprescribing controlled substances, a change of plea hearing has been set for July 30.
Hanus was scheduled for a hearing this week, but it was rescheduled for July 30 for a change of plea. He originally pleaded “not guilty.”
Hanus was under investigation by multiple law enforcement agencies for 2.5 years. He was charged with six felonies related to “substantial sums” of prescription drugs without medical need, according to a probable cause affidavit.
He faces four counts of dealing a schedule II controlled substance and two counts of dealing a controlled substance by a practitioner.
According to a state program, INSPECT, which monitors controlled substance prescriptions in Indiana, Hanus prescribed the third greatest amount of drugs of all Indiana health care providers between Jan. 1, 2015, and Aug. 20, 2016.
The data includes all physicians, nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants and hospitals.
Hanus had 3,080 unique patients who were prescribed controlled substances between Nov. 22, 2013, and July 31, 2016, according to INSPECT data in court documents.
Prior to Nov. 22, 2013, Hanus was employed by Parkview Health. The DEA report states he was terminated from Parkview for “harassment of Parkview employees and patients.”
After he was terminated, Hanus told investigators he treated about 15 patients out of his home before starting his own practice in South Whitley.
As his practice grew, Hanus told investigators he saw as many as 67 patients in a day, court documents show. A receptionist told investigators she booked two patients per 15-minute block, and that he had about 4,000 active patients.
Undercover officers found multiple prescription books that were blank and pre-signed by Hanus. Additionally, when search warrants were conducted at Hanus’ office and residence, more signed prescriptions were found.
Hanus told police he pre-signed the prescriptions for “efficiency,” court documents state. On multiple occasions, undercover investigators saw Hanus’ employees filling out the prescriptions, the affidavit states.
When police asked Hanus if he would be surprised to know he ranked “very high” on the prescriber list for controlled substances, the affidavit states he allegedly responded: “Well, that’s because all the other doctors are pussies. They don’t wanna do it. I mean, go back, I’m old school and I haven’t changed for 41 years. You have changed.”
The probable cause affidavit noted three instances in 2015 and 2016 when Hanus was out of the state, yet prescriptions were still being issued in his name:
• In October 2015, Hanus went to Las Vegas for four days. During those four days, 43 prescriptions for controlled substances were prescribed.
• In January 2016, Hanus was in Orlando for three days. During that time, 41 prescriptions for controlled substances were written.
• In March 2016, Hanus was out of state for four days and 22 prescriptions for controlled substances were prescribed, the affidavit states.
The DEA enlisted the assistance of another physician to review Hanus’ patient records and practices.
Several patients were described in the affidavit, including three patients between the ages of 33 and 45 who died while Hanus was prescribing medications to them. In the affidavit, the doctor did not indicate that the deaths were directly caused by Hanus’ care as a physician.
One patient, age 41, died in February 2015 from cardiac arrest. The patient hadn’t been physically seen by Hanus for eight months prior to death, however, the patient received 13 prescriptions for controlled substances from Hanus, despite the patient’s alleged history of cocaine and crack use, court documents show. The last three prescriptions the patient received, three days prior to his/her death, were: 270 methadone, 60 clonazepam and 10 diazepam. The court documents state the patient reported multiple stolen and lost medications, and had been hospitalized for drug overuse.
Another patient, age 45, died in November 2015 after receiving prescriptions of 120 oxycontin, 60 Lyrica and 30 diazepam, seven days prior to his/her death, court documents show. The reviewing doctor noted there was a “dangerous combination of opiates and benzodiazepines continued despite treatment failure.” There were also no required urine screens for the patient recorded.
The third patient, age 33, died in June 2015 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and hypertensive cardiovascular disease, court documents show. One month prior to his/her death, the patient filled six controlled substance prescriptions — 60 Lyrica, 90 oxycodone, 120 clonazepam and 120 methadone. The doctor who reviewed the case said the opiates were escalating and there was no improved pain control or function, and that the patient had multiple hospitalizations for drug withdrawal.
“Hanus prescribed a poly-pharmacy array of controlled substances outside the usual course of medical practice,” the doctor said in the court documents. The doctor added that the practice supported dependency, abuse and probable addiction, court documents show.