Undercover MacKay patient testifies of easy access to painkillers

Aug 4 2011 - 11:15pm

SALT LAKE CITY -- A former patient of Dr. Dewey MacKay who went undercover for the DEA testified Thursday she was never in pain the 39 times she was prescribed narcotic painkillers by the doctor.

The jury now finishing its third week of trial also heard two vastly different spins on the numbers of patients MacKay was seeing, showing the subjectivity of math.

"He grabbed my wrist, that was it," Michelle Russell testified in describing the lack of any examination by MacKay before he wrote her first prescription in May 2004. "No tests or anything."

MacKay, 64, is charged with 86 counts of felony drug distribution. The doctor is accused of prescribing more than 1.9 million pills of hydrocodone and nearly 1.6 million pills of oxycodone between June 1, 2005 and Oct. 30, 2009, from his Brigham City office.

From 2005 to February 2007, MacKay saw 100 to 120 patients every eight-hour workday, doing little but filling out prescriptions, according to a federal grand jury indictment handed down a year ago.

Russell testified she told MacKay during that first visit that her wrist was painful, which she said was a lie, and she faked pain when MacKay checked it.

In four years that was the extent of his treatment, she said, besides prescribing drugs for her. She also never asked about treatment, she said, only seeking to feed her addiction.

In return for wearing a wire during four visits to MacKay and introducing an undercover DEA agent to him as a potential patient, six felony charges of falsely obtaining prescriptions drugs filed in Cache County against Russell were dismissed.

But her memory appeared uneven under cross-examination by MacKay's defense team, which also attacked her personal life.

"Isn't it true none of your four children live with you?" defense attorney Nathan Crane asked, drawing an immediate objection from prosecutors.

But Crane argued they had "opened the door" to character issues in describing her as the mother of four, and Judge Dee Benson overruled the objection.

Russell explained two of her children live with her, while her ex-husband has custody of the other two, who stay with his mother because he's currently in prison.

Box Elder County Sheriff's Deputy Dave Freeze testified to his 2008 surveillance of MacKay.

Freeze was a member of the Box Elder County Narcotics Strike Force, which began the investigation of MacKay that eventually went to the DEA.

Both sides seized on one day of Freeze's several weeks of counting patients going in and out of MacKay's Brigham City clinic.

The March 13, 2008, surveillance counted 45 patients when MacKay had cut back his hours to part-time. The 45 patients amounted to an average of just over 3 1/2 minutes per visit in the roughly 3 1/2 hours MacKay was open for business, Freeze testified.

But Crane countered with cumulative totals, using Freeze's tally of how many actual minutes each patient was in the office, including waiting time.

Only three of the patients were in the office less than 10 minutes, most of the other 42 there for 30 minutes or more, actually totalling nearly 1,000 minutes, Crane recounted.

"Isn't it misleading to say they averaged 3 minutes and 39 seconds per visit?" Crane asked, Freeze responding it could look that way.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Daynes then followed up, noting the nearly 1,000 minutes Crane was counting amounted to 16 1/2 hours.

"And how many hours was MacKay's office open that day?" he asked Freeze, who reiterated the office was open about 3 1/2 hours.

The trial continues today and the U.S. Attorney's Office is expected to rest its case Monday. The defense would then mount its case, with potentially 81 witnesses including U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, as a character witness.

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