William Husel turned himself into Colombus Police after an investigation spanning six months into what Mount Carmel West hospital in Colombus, Ohio called his administration of “inappropriate” doses of the painkiller fentanyl to patients
Doctor William Husel, who worked in the critical care unit of a hospital in Ohio, has been charged with murdering 25 patients.
William Husel turned himself into Colombus Police after an investigation spanning six months into what Mount Carmel West Hospital in Ohio called his administration of “inappropriate” doses of the painkiller fentanyl to patients, Franklin County prosecutor Ron O’Brien said at a news conference, Associated Press reported.
The 43-year-old Husel is only the latest in a wave of American doctors charged for their role in a public health crisis that the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention believe led to a record 47,600 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2017.
Husel worked as an anesthesiologist and ICU doctor at Mount Carmel West Hospital from 2013 until he was sacked in December 2018.
Mount Carmel West Hospital alleged that at least 34 patients were given higher-than-usual painkiller doses under Husel’s care.
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said that 500 micrograms of fentanyl was chosen as a threshold for murder charges because they “hastened” death of these patients and were a violation of Ohio law that says people must be allowed to die naturally.
“By giving fentanyl at these levels, we were comfortable with the information we had that it was a sufficient amount that the only rational purpose could be to shorten a person’s life,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien compared Husel’s actions to extinguishing a dwindling candle.
“That candle, while there may be just a half an inch of wax left, if I blow that candle out, I’m causing that flame to go out sooner than it would naturally,” O’Brien said.
William Husel, 43, pleaded not guilty and a judge set bail at US$1 million.
Authorities are not prosecuting nurses, pharmacists and others involved in the deaths, though dozens of hospital employees have been reported to professional boards for investigation and potential disciplinary action.
Husel’s lawyer said he was trying to provide “comfort care” for dying patients.
“At no time did Dr Husel ever intend to euthanise anyone — euthanise meaning speed up death,” defence lawyer Richard Blake said.
The patients were going to die whether they were being treated by Husel or another physician, he added.
The Columbus-area Mount Carmel Health System publicly apologised. It issued a statement stating it would continue cooperating with authorities and making “meaningful changes” to ensure the events never happen again.
The health system found that Husel ordered potentially fatal drug doses for 29 patients, including five who might have received those drugs when there still was a chance to improve their conditions with treatment. The hospital system said six more patients received doses that were excessive and probably did not cause their deaths.
William Husel and Mount Carmel have been named in at least 24 lawsuits.