NEWNAN, Ga. (AP) - The personal doctor to a professional wrestler who killed himself, his wife and their 7-year-old son was sentenced to 10 years in prison Tuesday for illegally prescribing painkillers and other drugs to patients.
Dr. Phil Astin, 54, had pleaded guilty Jan. 29 to a 175-count federal indictment that accused him of writing illegal prescriptions to known drug abusers, some of them for years. Prosecutors said at least two of Astin's patients died of drug overdose - a fact the judge said he could not overlook in handing down the sentence.
"I take full responsibility," Astin told U.S. District Judge Jack Camp during a sentencing hearing that lasted more than two hours. "I am sorry I hurt so many lives. I was thinking that I was looking after my patients."
Prosecutors said Chris Benoit, a wrestler for Stamford, Conn.-based World Wrestling Entertainment, and his wife, Nancy, were not the two patients who died.
The 19 patients in the indictment are identified only by their initials because of privacy rules. C.B. and N.B. were among the patients listed, but Assistant U.S. Attorney John Horn would not say whether that referred to the Benoits. Both abused prescription drugs, Horn said.
Astin came to the attention of authorities in June 2007, when Benoit, his wife and son were found dead in their suburban Atlanta home. Police said Benoit strangled his wife and son and then hanged himself. A medical examiner couldn't say whether the steroids Astin prescribed for Benoit played a role in the deaths.
A federal investigation found Astin wrote prescriptions without conducting physical exams and sometimes gave patients as many as
four simultaneous prescriptions for Percocet, a painkiller. He also prescribed "cocktails" of drugs like Percocet, Oxycontin, Vicodin and Adderall.
Investigators cited one case in which an unidentified female patient died of an overdose of hydrocodone and other drugs obtained through Astin. A male patient died of an overdose of medication prescribed by Astin, but he had also taken Soma, a muscle relaxant.
Horn said it was likely there were far more patient addicts than the 19 listed in the indictment, but the investigation was halted when Astin agreed to plead guilty. He produced charts showing patients came from a much broader geographic area than around Astin's clinic in Carrollton in western Georgia.
Astin's attorney, Natasha Perdew Silas, characterized the doctor's lawbreaking as "a certain benevolent recklessness."
"He developed a disrespect for the rules," she said. "Even when someone is a drug abuser, that person may still have a reason to relieve their pain."
Horn countered that it was clear Astin knew what he was doing.
"He knew that these patients were addicted to drugs, and yet he continued prescribing the drugs," he said.