Federal Magistrate Judge Christine A. Nowak is expected to rule later today on Dr. Howard Gregg Diamond's request for release on a personal recognizance bond. Diamond, 56, of Sherman, who runs the DiamondBack Pain and Wellness Centers in Sherman and Paris, is facing a laundry list of charges including conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, money laundering and abetting, distribution of controlled substances and health care fraud, and aiding and abetting. The charges also link Diamond's prescriptions to the overdose deaths of seven people.
Editor's note: This article has been updated thoughout. An earlier version of this article erred in the spelling of defense attorney Peter Schulte's given name.
A Sherman doctor who was arrested earlier this week asked a federal district judge to let him out on a personal recognizance bond Friday. Howard Gregg Diamond was arrested earlier this week on a laundry list of charges, including conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, money laundering and abetting, distribution of controlled substances and health care fraud, and aiding and abetting. The charges also link Diamond’s prescriptions to the overdose deaths of seven people.
In Magistrate Judge Christine Nowak’s courtroom Friday a government witness said they suspect that up to 15 more people may have died from an overdose of drugs they got through prescriptions from Diamond.
Nowak said she would take the request and the government’s rebuttal of it, under advisement Friday.
Nowak’s first order of business on the Diamond case was to check on the status of his attorney. She had previously allowed Diamond to receive legal services from a government provided attorney after he made application for one. On Friday, Diamond said that his parents had secured for him the services of Peter Schulte.
Schulte said Diamond would be willing to relinquish his DEA prescription number and suspend his medical license if he could await trial outside of a jail cell.
No. 2 in the state
Susannah Herkert, a DEA agent who has been investigating Diamond, said the system for tracking the prescription doses of controlled substances in Texas showed that Diamond was the No. 2 doctor in Texas when it comes to the number of doses of Hydrocodone he prescribed in 2016. She said those records show that Diamond prescribed 1.46 million doses of the drug. She said she found that number of prescriptions concerning because Diamond practices physical medicine and is supposed to help patients reach a point where they don’t need pain medication anymore. She said she talked to medical experts who said the number of doses Diamond prescribed were staggering. Furthermore, she said, his statistics for prescribing four other controlled substances, including Hydrocodone, Oxycontin, Zolpidem and Alprazolam, were also high. She said even more concerning was the fact that he was prescribing a majority of the Hydrocodone at the maximum dosage of 10 milligrams.
Herkert said the DEA started investigating Diamond after they received phone calls from a number of local pharmacies saying they couldn’t get Diamond on the phone to discuss the prescriptions and refills that his clients were bringing into the pharmacies. In addition, the DEA heard from several families whose loved ones had overdosed on medication prescribed by Diamond.
Presumption for remand
Rattan said the charges facing Diamond meant it was presumed that he would await his trial in jail unless his attorney could show proof that Diamond wouldn’t be either a continuing danger to the community or a flight risk. She then asked Herkert if she thought Diamond would be either and on what she based that opinion. Herkert said the fact that Diamond didn’t appear to have changed his prescription writing habits after he was investigated by the Texas Medical Board in 2015 would show that he will continue to write prescriptions regardless and is a continuing danger to the community. She said passports found in his car on the day he was arrested show he could be a flight risk.
Schulte contended that there are systems in place that could be used to make sure that Diamond doesn’t continue to prescribe medications while he awaits trial. Each doctor, Herkert explained, is given a unique number under which they prescribe medications once they get their license to prescribe. Schulte asked whether the pharmacists are supposed to check that number when the prescriptions come in to make sure it is still a valid number. Herkert said they are supposed to do so, but there is no telling whether every pharmacy does it every time.
Denying his client bond, Schulte said, on the basis that someone else might not do their job didn’t seem right. He argued that his client could relinquish his prescription number and suspend his medical license until the trial.
Next, the attorneys turned to whether he was a flight risk. Herkert, under questioning from Rattan, said that the agents looking for Diamond never really knew where to find him. She said there is a house in Grayson County, but she isn’t sure how much time Diamond spends there. Furthermore, she said, they often couldn’t find him either at his home or the office. And, she said, they did find an application for passports for his children and a passport, though expired, in his car on the day he was arrested.
While Herkert talked about the number of people that Diamond is believed to have prescribed drugs to that were eventually used to end their lives, Schulte said the two things don’t have to be related. He said it is not the doctor’s fault if the patients take the medication he prescribes incorrectly and dies from that. He asked whether the government checked to see if any of those people were suicidal before they sought help from Dr. Diamond. He also asked whether anyone checked to see if the people were taking the medications as he prescribed them.
Supporters, mourners watch
The exchanges between Herkert and the two attorneys were watched by a packed spectator’s section in the magistrate’s courtroom. The section was filled with current and former Diamond patients, family members of those whose deaths from overdoses have been attributed to medication Diamond prescribed and media representatives.
One group of women sat together and talked to a television reporter about a female in their family who had died from an overdose. The women shook their heads as Herkert talked about a patient who overdosed on medication 10 days after she filled a prescription from Diamond. One of the women sighed when Herkert said the woman known in the indictment as T.H. was in the backseat of a car on a ride up to Oklahoma when she fell asleep and never woke up. Herkert said T.H.’s family said they didn’t know why she was seeing a pain doctor and couldn’t understand why she was taking a mixture of very strong medications, including morphine, Ambien and Xanax.
Not everyone in the spectator’s section wanted to see Diamond sit in jail to await his trial. One former patient said he just couldn't understand what is going on with the prosecution. In an interview after the hearing, Wesley Wilson said he had been going to Diamond for 10 years and thinks he is a great doctor. Wilson said Diamond was the only doctor who would listen to him after he was injured in an accident. He said doctors told him he would never walk right again and he used to fall when he walked, but thanks to Diamond’s help, Wilson said he now walks without falling.
And Wilson is taking methadone.
“He told me if you drink (alcohol) while you are taking this, it will kill you,” Wilson said.
He said he has been at Diamond’s clinic when people came in demanding refills and were told that they couldn’t have any because they had used up their last refill too quickly.