Family blames Sherman doctor for loved one's overdose death

Family blames doctor for overdose death

Tammy Curtis-Betterton’s family feared for years that the drugs she was addicted to would kill her.

The drugs finally did kill her in February 2016.

Only Curtis-Betterton, a former postal worker, did not buy her drugs on the street. She got hers from a doctor.

The 48-year-old McKinney resident’s death is one of the seven overdose deaths linked to Dr. Howard Gregg Diamond, a doctor with offices in Sherman and Paris.

He was taken into custody Tuesday. He was indicted this month in a 21-count indictment that also accuses him of Medicare fraud and money laundering.

“Our lives changed forever, and it will never be the same again,” says her sister Kaylynn Curtis-Rhodes. “I shouldn't have had to bury her. I shouldn't have to go to a cemetery to see my sister.”

Curtis-Rhodes, her two sisters and her parents attended a court hearing Friday in Sherman. Even 18 months later, all of her family members became emotional just talking about the loss. They blame Diamond for her death.

“We just weren’t prepared to let her go,” her sister says.

The doctor appeared in court, wearing a green and gray striped jail jump suit. He was shackled.

Diamond’s attorneys are seeking his release from federal detention. They offered to give up his medical license and to relinquish his ability to prescribe controlled substances.

“I don’t like the fact that people died and overdosed on prescription medication,” said Pete Schulte, Diamond’s attorney. “That doesn’t mean the doctor violated the law.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather Rattan told the judge he was a flight risk and a danger to the community, and thus shouldn't be released.

Magistrate Judge Christine Nowak has not yet made a decision.

Other deaths being investigated

The only witness to testify during the hearing was lead DEA investigator Susannah Herkert. Herkert testified authorities are looking into as many as 15 other overdose deaths connected to Diamond.

She said Diamond ranked second in the entire state for prescriptions for hydrocodone dosage units in 2016. She said 97 percent of the hydrocodone he prescribed was for the highest strength.

His prescriptions for other pain medications were also very high as well.

Investigators initially began looking into Diamond’s prescribing practices after the overdose deaths of one of his patients in 2014. But a series of stories on WFAA about the arrest of a McKinney doctor, Randall Wade, who was accused of running a pill mill, people began coming forward about Diamond.

The agent testified Diamond’s employees said he was rarely there and allowed employees to use his passwords to send electronic prescriptions.

Pharmacists told Herkert they had a tough time getting in touch with Diamond, and that they did not want to fill his prescriptions.

Patients said a lot of the time they never actually saw Diamond. One patient told her, “He is the pill problem,” she testified.

Herkert said she did not believe that Diamond would stop prescribing drugs if he were released. She said after a search warrant was run on his offices in Sherman and Paris, he continued to prescribe large quantities of controlled substances just as he had been.

Schulte argued that if pharmacies were following the law and checking the DEA database, then there was no way that he could do that even if he wanted to.

Herkert replied, “I can’t ensure that 100 percent of the pharmacies throughout the US would take that extra step.”

When he was taken into custody, investigators found two expired passports belonging to Diamond as well as passport applications for his children. They also found a gun and marijuana in the back seat.

As Herkert testified, Diamond’s supporters often shook their head and called what was being said lies.

Disturbance at Diamond's house

A reference was also made to Diamond’s 2015 arrest on misdemeanor assault and interfering with an emergency call charges. Diamond’s wife told police that they had been arguing about how he treated her children and that he got angry and hit her in the face with his fist screaming, “You’re homeless b****,” according to a Melissa police report obtained by WFAA.

She told police the blow knocked her sideways, caused her to lose hearing in her ear for a few minutes and made the side of her face numb.

When she tried to call 911, he grabbed the phone and broke it, according to the report. A friend of his wife’s said when she tried to call the police, Diamond held her on the bed and tried to wrestle the phone away from her.
They called the police after Diamond left.

His wife told police that Diamond “always has to be right and does not tolerate disagreements,” the report said.

The officer’s report says there was a red mark on his wife’s face and her ear was “completely red.” The friend had a “long red mark” on her chest, the report said.

While police were talking to the women, Diamond sent a text to the friend admitting that he had slapped his wife, the report said.

The assault charge was later dismissed. The interfering with an emergency call charge was reduced to disorderly conduct, the equivalent of a traffic ticket.

There were a number of people besides Diamond’s family members who came to the hearing to show their support.

Wesley Wilson, a longtime patient of Diamond’s, said he began going to Diamond 10 years ago after he was hit by a car. He said Diamond’s treatments helped him be able to live a normal life and to walk normally again.

“I've sat there and seen him turn down people, not give them prescriptions, because they're abusing their prescriptions,” Wilson said.

"It's going to kill you"

Curtis-Betterton was a patient of both Diamond and Wade. Wade has been linked to as many as eight deaths.

Investigators said many of Wade’s patients began going to Diamond after Wade’s arrest last fall.

Curtis-Betterton’s family says she was going to Diamond before Wade’s arrest.

They say she was doctor shopping, a common problem among those addicted to prescription drug medications. Her family says she got hooked on pain medications about 10 years ago after complications from gastric bypass surgery.

“I told her if you continue this, ‘It's going to kill you,'” says Curtis-Rhodes, her sister. “You're going to die, and she'd tell me, ‘I don't want to die.’”

In 2012, Tammy overdosed and was put on life support. She woke up after 48 hours.

“I told her then, ‘God's given you a second chance, you need to make the best of it,’ and she said, ‘I know. I know,’” her sister said.

Curtis-Rhodes says she tried to intervene.

Several years ago, she called one of the doctor’s offices and told an employee that her sister was an addict and to please stop giving her pills. She also called pharmacies about her sister.

“I told them, ‘She’s doctor shopping. Quit giving her medication,’” she says. “She got mad and I said, ‘I don’t care. It’s killing you.’”

The doctors didn’t quit prescribing. The pharmacies kept filling them.

In January 2016, her husband found her not breathing. He did CPR until paramedics arrived.

She left a voice mail on one of her sister’s phone describing what happened.

“Well, I survived another one,” she says. “I tell ya.”

In the recording, she says she turned blue and was clinically dead and would have died, but for the rescue efforts of her husband.

“I’ve just been a screw-up these last few years,” she says. “Most of it was my fault, so I just take responsibility.”

A month after that call, Tammy overdosed again. She knew it was bad when hospital chaplains greeted her at the door.

This time, Tammy was brain dead. The family removed her from life support. She died of an oxycodone overdose.

“That was the hardest thing I've ever done,” she says. “Nobody should have to do this.”

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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