Former Jeannette doctor sentenced to house arrest for patient overdose deaths
A North Huntingdon doctor will serve two years on house arrest and five years on probation for over-prescribing drugs used by two patients who died of overdoses.
Dr. Michel Toret, 73, of Jeannette, told a Westmoreland County judge that the practice of medicine has changed during his four decades as a physician and defended his work as a doctor while also taking responsibility for the deaths of two patients.
“I am a very good physician and I know that,” Toret said during a sentencing hearing Monday on two counts of drug delivery resulting in death and two other offenses for over-prescribing medication. “I am very negative about the practice of medicine in America. We need to set up the practice of medicine in an easier way. I feel very bad about the family and the struggles I put them through.”
Toret was arrested in December 2017 in connection with the fatal overdoses of Heather Dervin, 26, of North Huntingdon, and Glenn Morgan, 30, of Level Green. In July, he pleaded guilty to the four charges.
Prosecutors said Toret over-prescribed methadone — a drug given to heroin users to wean them from addiction — to Dervin, who died on Sept. 6, 2016. They also said Toret ordered too many doses of the painkiller oxymorphone for Morgan, who died on Oct. 10, 2016.
Those prescriptions were picked up and filled locally by Morgan’s family members, who then mailed the pills to him in Kansas, where he was working and later died, according to court records.
Toret is a native of France and had practiced family medicine in the Jeannette and North Huntingdon areas for more than 40 years. He voluntarily surrendered his medical license in November 2016 after authorities began investigating his prescribing practices. His license expired at the end of 2018, according to state records.
Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio said Toret’s actions were out of character for the doctor.
“You were a good, caring doctor who continued to practice medicine with a diminished capacity. You were no longer able to safely practice medicine and that message was received a little too late for these two individuals. I don’t believe any incarceration is needed. You are no risk to re-offend and no longer a danger to the community,” Bilik-DeFazio said.
Morgan’s family members did not attend Monday’s sentencing hearing.
Dervin’s father, Max Dervin, blamed his daughter’s death on Toret.
“Doctors are supposed to do everything they can to help their patients. In Heather’s case, she was being slowly poisoned,” Dervin testified.
Defense attorney Michael DeRiso argued for a sentence that included no prison time, saying that, because Toret no longer practices medicine, he is not a danger to the community.
DeRiso, four of Toret’s sons and his wife testified that Toret experienced memory deficiencies due to aging, a factor they said caused the poor decision making that led to the fatal overdoses.
Christopher Toret, who traveled from France to speak on his father’s behalf, also blamed his father’s patients for the overdoses.
“An unscrupulous society with an aging doctor and drug-addicted patients, my father was an easy mark. He was fish in a barrel,” said Christopher Toret.
Son Alan Toret, a math teacher at Greensburg Salem High School, described his father as a “decrepit, frail old man.”
Deputy Attorney General Jeff Baxter and Edward Song did not argue for any specific sentence but asked the judge to impose a penalty that is within state guidelines and included at least some time in jail.
Baxter said the overdose of Toret’s two patients came during the height of an opioid abuse crisis in the county, when 174 fatalities in 2016 were blamed on opioid overdoses. Baxter said Toret’s failing memory was not to blame for his actions.
“Like most doctors, he kept detailed patient records. In those records, it was clear these two patients needed help for addiction but he kept prescribing increasing amounts of these drugs,” Baxter said. “We rushed this investigation because people were dying. There were three other patients being over-prescribed and, hopefully, they were saved.”
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .