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Doctor arrested for over-prescribing opioids, causing fatal overdose

HARRISBURG — As part of an ongoing crackdown on doctors and medical staff whose actions are helping to fuel the opioid epidemic, the Attorney General announced Thursday that felony charges against a Jefferson County physician who over-prescribed opioids that caused the overdose of two patients. One of the overdoses was fatal.

Collaborating with the Punxsutawney Borough police, the investigation into Henry G. Dela Torre, 68, 2194 Base Terre Road, DuBois, began in August 2016 after one of his patients, 33-year-old Rachel Shumaker, fatally overdosed. Officers responding to the scene found multiple bottles of prescription opioids in Shumaker’s name that had been prescribed by Dela Torre.

Attorney General’s agents contacted the pharmacy that filled the prescription. The pharmacy manager said Shumaker was known to have an addiction problem and he questioned Dela Torre about his opioid prescriptions because the doctor was prescribing her Fentanyl, Diazepam, and Oxycodone while she was also being treated with Suboxone. Used to treat opioid addictions, Suboxone prevents painful withdrawal symptoms, and patients receiving Suboxone should not be prescribed opioid-based drugs.

In September 2016, 39-year-old Randal Shumaker, the brother of the overdose victim and also a patient of Dela Torre, overdosed on prescription opioids prescribed by Dela Torre. First responders administered Narcan and he recovered.

A search warrant was executed at Dela Torre’s practice on Beaver Road in DuBois and medical files for the Shumaker patients were recovered. Independent expert review of these files determined Dela Torre “practiced at a level that fell below the standard of care for any reasonable physician.” The expert elaborated in the case of Rachel Shumaker that Dela Torre “was aware of her tendency to overdose and failed to significantly modify his prescribing behavior.”

It was also determined that the PA Medical Assistance program suffered a loss of $787.74 in unneeded treatment.

Dela Torre was arrested Thurday and arraigned by District Judge Jacqueline J. Mizerock of Punxsutawney with violations of the Controlled Substances Act, Medicaid fraud and related offenses.

Bail was set at $150,000, unsecured.

A preliminary hearing was set for 10:30 a.m. Feb. 21. He will be prosecuted by Senior Deputy Attorneys General Jeffrey Baxter and Marnie Sheehan-Balchon and Deputy Attorney General Kee Song.

“The illegal diversion and misuse of prescription drugs are fueling the opioid crisis in Pennsylvania,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “Our arrests for unlawful diversions are up 72 percent from a year ago, and we’ve added resources to attack this growing problem. Whether you’re a drug dealer on the street corner or a physician, if your actions help fuel this epidemic, we’re coming after you.”

Shapiro noted studies showing that 80 percent of heroin users began their drug abuse by using prescription drugs. In 2017, Office of Attorney General agents charged 216 persons for illegally diverting prescription drugs, a 72 percent increase over 2016.

“We are fighting this epidemic on every front – from doctors excessively prescribing opioids to drug dealers on street corners to the marketing practices of pharmaceutical companies,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “It takes a coordinated, multi-disciplinary approach to confront this epidemic, strong law enforcement collaboration, and help from citizens who see wrong things happening. Let us know. Thanks to the help of Punxsutawney Police and a local pharmacist, another doctor will face justice for his role in this crisis.”

DASD administrators pleased with turnout at middle school tour

DuBOIS — DuBois Area School District administrators were pleased with the turnout at this week’s “Tour and Explore” at the middle school.

“The turnout was remarkable with 119 families in attendance. Most families had between three and four people, so we had between 350-475 people,” said Assistant Superintendent Wendy Benton, noting that many were children.

Middle school Principal Darren Hack agreed.

“It was an excellent turnout, more than we expected, but we were ready for them,” Hack said. “We were really glad that many people came, especially the potential students who could see where their learning spaces may be.”

Instead of a presentation by the administration, the families engaged in a self-guided scavenger hunt where they located various classrooms throughout what could possibly be the fifth grade area of the building,” Benton said.

Those who attended took a self-guided tour of the school including the areas where grade five could potentially be located. Currently, the middle school includes grades 6-8.

“We heard a lot of positive comments about how nice the building is. We have a beautiful facility,” Hack said.

Benton said she received a few questions from one parent, including:

  • What will be the class sizes?
  • Are there any other middle schools with a 5-8 configuration?
  • If recess is not an option, how can physical activity be included into the school day?
  • Are there any extracurricular after school options for students in fifth grade?

“The parent also expressed concern with 5-12 busing,” Benton said. “The parent was not aware that our elementary afternoon bus routes currently consist of K-12 students whereas Jeff Tech students have always utilized the elementary buses for transportation home.”

Regarding the class size question, Benton said the administration doesn’t have the sizes finalized yet but she is hoping to have “actual numbers” early next week.

The district is currently evaluating all facilities to determine areas in need of capital improvements.

In previously published Courier-Express articles, administrators have stated that the middle school currently has an abundance of space available that could be utilized by fifth-grade students. In addition, a significant amount of space is available to enhance the quality of educational programs that currently exist for all students at DAMS. As a result, grade reconfiguration is an area which must be explored. This will help to ensure that all available learning spaces throughout the district are effectively utilized so that quality learning opportunities are provided for all students.

According to the administration, no decision has been made to date as to whether the board is planning an official vote to move grade five from the four remaining elementary schools. Additional information will be shared at the 7 p.m. Jan. 18 board work session at the Administrative Center on Liberty Boulevard.

“In my upcoming presentation, I plan to share an increase to physical education as well as the implementation of Drums Alive and Team incentives to compensate for the lack of ‘recess,’” Benton said.

Photo by Chris Wechtenhiser 

DuBois' Garrett Starr, back, pulls down Philipsburg-Osceola's Cole Hoover for a set of backpoints in the third period of their 138-pound bout Thursday. Starr scored a 14-1 major decision over the Mountie.

Readers divided on moving fifth grade to DuBois Area Middle School

DuBOIS — As the possibility of moving fifth-graders from their elementary schools to the DuBois Area Middle School continues to be investigated by administrators, a Courier-Express online poll shows that our readers are divided on the reconfiguration idea.

Fifty-nine percent of CE readers were in favor of moving the fifth grade to the middle school, while 39.2 percent were not in favor. The remaining are undecided.

If approved, reconfiguration could also potentially mean the closing of Oklahoma Elementary in DuBois and the building of a new Wasson Elementary School, DuBois, according to an Educational Facilities Master Plan presented to the board late last year.

Clearfield County prison board looks to trim costs

CLEARFIELD — Clearfield County Prison Board continues to look for ways to cut costs due to high inmate populations.

At yesterday’s meeting, Warden Greg Collins reported the county currently has 177 inmates, and 159 of those are housed in the Clearfield County Jail with 18 being housed in the Jefferson County Jail.

For the monthly housing report, Collins said in December the jail started with 149 inmates, 119 were committed, 116 were released and the jail ended the month with 152. There were 4,704 prisoners days served and the average daily population was 152.

Under the Intermediate Punishment Program there were 19 on home detention and 26 on supervised bail for a total incarceration days served of 1,118.

Over the past year or so, the county has been having problems with having too many inmates because it drives up the county’s costs. For example, it costs Clearfield County about $65 per day to house an inmate in Jefferson County, and the jail itself has seen its medical bills, overtime, and janitorial supplies costs increase as a result of high inmate populations.

Commissioner John Sobel said Joel Petersen of Clearfield Wholesale Paper has been following this issue in the newspaper and said he would like to meet with the prison board to discuss ways they can cut costs. For example, Petersen said the jail could save some money by purchasing less expensive plastic cups rather than paper cups.

Sobel said Petersen would be willing to come in and give a presentation to the board.

President Judge Fredric Ammerman said because of his position as a judge, it would be inappropriate for him to be at the meeting, but said it would be okay if other board members met with Petersen.

The prison board voted unanimously to set up a meeting with Petersen.

In other business, the prison board held its reorganizational meeting yesterday, Ammerman was reelected chairman, Sobel vice chairman and Charles Adamson secretary.