Health: Prescription Pain Killer Epidemic, Pervasive In Local Suburbs

By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic, and especially bad in Pennsylvania. Authorities say it’s striking a growing number of families in the suburbs. Part of the problem is doctors accused of being dealers. 3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has more.

Dr. Richard Ruth’s lawyer tried to keep us away from the family physician who’s been called a drug kingpin. He’s accused of flooding the streets with hundreds of thousands of prescription pain killers, like Oxycodone.

“The doctors are well known in that world,” said a recovering addict, who wants to remain anonymous. To supply her habit, that started with Percocet, she didn’t go to Dr. Ruth, but there were plenty of others.

“It’s very easy. You could go from doctor to doctor. It ruined my life. Oh my god. It totally ruined my life,” said the recovering addict.

Another life ruined by drugs, Justina McIntyre’s 19-year-old son Ronnie Powell, a star athlete in Souderton, died from an overdose.

“He became addicted to painkillers. He started with Vicodin. He would also use Xanax, and a lot of other prescription pills,” said Justina.

He’s not alone. Pennsylvania has one of the highest rates of prescription drug abuse and overdoses in the country.

The problem has led to an increase in robberies at pharmacies, where any of us could get caught in the cross fire.

On the streets, one Oxy can be sold for around 80 dollars.

Authorities say Dr. Ruth knew he was fueling deadly habits, that led to overdoses.

Stephanie asked Dr. Ruth on his way out of court, “Do you have any comment on the charges?”

Dr. Ruth, who operated out of a house in Montgomery county, is charged with dozens of felonies including fraud, prescribing in bad faith, and criminal conspiracy.

Stephanie asked on his way out of court, “Did you prescribe pain killers to addicts?”

His lawyer replied, “No comment.”

Stephanie then asked, “Did you get people addicted to pain killers for profit?”

Experts say most doctors are not like what Dr. Ruth is accused of being. They don’t realize they’re being used. People lie about pain to get a prescription.

“You just make stuff up. You use different pharmacies, so the pharmacy doesn’t catch on that you’re filling the same scripts from different doctors,” said the recovering addict.

It’s harder to do that in some states because of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, where information about patients and drugs is shared. But in Pennsylvania, only law enforcement officials have access to the information.

“One in four families in Pennsylvania have a loved one that’s affected by an addiction,” said Gene DiGirolamo, State Representative of Bucks county. It’s even hit home, his son is a recovered drug addict.

DiGirolamo has proposed legislation to create a drug database for doctors and pharmacists.

“The doctor, if he has a suspicion, will then be able to go on his computer into the database enter the person’s name, and he’ll be able to see if this person has been doctor shopping or pharmacy shopping,” said DiGirolamo.

Justina says there’s a desperate need for change, even though it’ll be too late for her son.

“He was a hero in a lot of boys eyes, and unfortunately he made a bad choice,” said Justina.

Ronnie’s mother has created an organization in her son’s memory to warn others about prescription drug abuse.

There’s no connection between Ronnie and Dr. Ruth, who has plead not guilty in his case. No trial date has been set. His license has been temporarily suspended pending the outcome of the trial.

And for people struggling with addiction and their families, free help is available.


Prescription Pain Killer Overdose Information
PA Health Dept. Addiction Help
NJ Division of Addiction Services
Gaudenzia Drug Rehabilitation Center

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One Comment

  1. David Loffert / My Story of Rx Abuse says:

    After completing 4 years at the University of Northern Colorado for my Bachelor of Science, 1 year at Johns Hopkins University for my Masters in Health Science, and 2 ½ years into my Ph.D. in respiratory medicine at the Medical College of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University, I thought I had complete control of my life. Specifically, my career in aerosol respiratory medicine. I had published my first paper in a respectable peer reviewed medical journal (Chest) when I was 27. Several months after that, I presented the paper at a medical conference in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. It was one of 9 trips I would take to Germany to consult with a medical company established in Starnberg, Germany.

    By the time I was in my second year of my Ph.D. I had published/presented 54 medical papers, published 6 peer reviewed medical papers, was contributing author on one book, owned and operated my own consulting company in respiratory medicine, developed a patent for respiratory devices, and was progressing successfully in my Ph.D. I was 31 years old and I was proud of my accomplishments and my continuing success in respiratory medicine. But, that was all about to change. Addiction would enter my life and take away from me my possessions, my profession, my loved ones, and my sanity.

    My pathway to addiction started when I made an appointment to see Dr. Cary Suter, M.D. for migraine headaches. I put great trust in him due to the fact that he was the medical schools doctor and was responsible for taking care of the students enrolled in the medical school programs. In a timeframe of 8 months I was prescribed 6,647 controlled substance pills. I had pills to help me stay awake and study, pills for helping me sleep, pills for anxiety, and pills for pain. I knew about addiction but I thought I was too intelligent to become addicted. Anyway, these pills were provided to me by the schools doctor who said he had taken pills when he was in medical school to help him succeed. My ignorance would cause me to lose almost a decade of my life and would bring me close to death many times as a result of my severe drug addiction.

    Although Dr. Suter lost his medical license for over prescribing controlled substances and not monitoring that prescribing, it was too late for me. I had to drop out of my Ph.D. program due to my addiction. Dr. Suter lost his license 3 months after I dropped out of the program. At this point in my life, I had to confront and accept some very disturbing facts: I no longer was pursuing the goal I had been following for the past 15 years, I was severely addicted to prescription drugs, the doctor who had been prescribing me the drugs had his medical license revoked, and the main focus of my life was to obtain drugs. I was, in essence, trapped in the severity of my addiction. For the first time I had lost complete control over my life.

    My first of numerous addiction related detrimental events came when I was presenting a medical paper at a conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Before my lecture I forged a prescription on my computer and proceeded to the pharmacy to have it filled. Since the prescription was for Demerol, the pharmacy called the doctor and verified the prescription was forged. The police were waiting for me (at the conference lecture hall) to finish my lecture and when I did they handcuffed and arrested me. I was taken out in front of all my colleagues and conference members and taken to jail. Needless to say I was immediately fired from my job as a senior aerosol scientist for a prominent German company established in the United States.

    For many years I was doctor shopping. I would acquire my drugs in many ways: the internet, hospital emergency rooms, forged prescriptions, clinics, private doctors, and in other countries. I would stay employed by various companies because of my experience in respiratory medicine. But, I would ultimately get fired when my drug addiction interfered with the quality of my work. Eventually, word of my addiction became known to my colleagues and the respiratory medicine industry. From that point on, I was not called upon to lecture, to consult, or in any way work in the respiratory medicine industry. I was, for all intents and purposes, “blackballed” from my profession.

    Shunned from my profession, disenchanted from my family and friends, and homeless, I fell into a deep depression. It was at this time that I wrote a suicide note and attempted to commit suicide. Over the next 9 years I would attempt suicide 1 more time, have 35 toxic overdoses, and 45 seizures. All of which brought me close to death each time.

    During the 9 years of my addiction, I would periodically give the rehabilitations a try. Nine times I made a serious effort to get sober. But, every time I would relapse within weeks of being discharged. After 9 years of being an addict, I completely surrendered to my disease and came to the understanding that my addiction was not going to be successfully addressed in weeks or even in a couple months of treatment. I realized that my recovery would require at least a year in a long term residential program where I could work on my addiction issues every day with no distractions. I found that in a year-long cognitive/behavioral rehabilitation program. This program not only worked on my addiction issues but also worked on my cognitive/behavioral issues that caused me to seek out the drugs.

    Currently, my life is finally in a direction I can be proud of. I graduated from a year-long in-patient residential cognitive/behavioral rehabilitation facility. My sobriety restored my clarity of thought and determination. Two attributes which are essential for completing my autobiography, “From Hopkins To Homeless: My True Story Of Prescription Drug Addiction”. I believe I can inspire and educate others about addiction and recovery with my memoir.

    My future is completely open with possibilities. I do know that I am very thrilled and inspired living life as a sober individual since December 25, 2007. And, for the first the first time in over 9 years I have a sense of self-confidence and respect for myself. This confidence reminds me that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to. For this reason, I have enrolled and been accepted to complete my doctorate in public health education.

    It has been a long, arduous, and self-revealing journey through my 9 years of addiction to recovery. Unfortunately along the way I became deceitful, dishonest, unreliable, and untrustworthy. On the other hand I can proclaim that through my suffering and adversity came great rewards and prosperity. Today, I will continue to advocate for those affected by this disease of addiction. It is a passion and a pathway that I will pursue for the rest of my life.

    Please visit http://www.fromhopkinstohomeless for further information about my story

  2. NAABT says:

    Do you or someone you know need help with OxyContin or other opiate addiction? This life-threatening medical condition can now be treated in the privacy of a certified physician’s office with prescription medication called buprenorphine (Suboxone/Subutex). Bupe is abuse resistant and has a ceiling to its effects making accidental fatal overdoses unlikely. It also blocks other opioids for days, and is not euphoric to people tolerant to opioids. It has enough opioid effect to stop cravings and withdrawal allowing the patient and their family to make the necessary changes that will translate to sustained addiction remission. is a free service from the non-profit organization and is a confidential way to find doctors certified to treat opioid addiction in their office.

    Learn more about buprenorphine at

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