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Tampa doctor accused of improperly issuing pain pills

TAMPA — Dr. John Rew prescribed so many painkillers that he believed police were watching him.

He was right.

On Tuesday, federal marshals arrested the 83-year-old doctor, who last year told the St. Petersburg Times that a Drug Enforcement Administration agent had called him the state's top prescriber of narcotics.

Rew, who has no criminal record or disciplinary history in Florida, said then that he didn't do anything illegal.

The 10-count federal indictment unsealed Tuesday accuses him of acting outside the scope of professional practice by dispensing and distributing oxycodone, hydrocodone and the antianxiety drug alprazolam from his medical practice at 1005 W Busch Blvd., Suite 105.

That road has so many pain clinics that one Tampa police captain calls it Hollywood Boulevard.

A government witness obtained the improperly distributed pain pills from Rew during 10 recorded office visits between April 2008 and January 2009, according to court testimony and records.

"We believe that this is Dr. Rew's standard operating procedure," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelley Howard-Allen said during his first court appearance.

Authorities have reason to worry about such scenarios. In Tampa Bay in 2007, more than 500 people fatally overdosed on prescription drugs, three times as many who fatally overdosed on illicit drugs such as cocaine and heroin. In recent years, prescription drug deaths have run neck and neck with auto fatalities as the leading cause of accidental death in the bay area.

Rew's son died of an overdose from painkillers, including one that Rew prescribed him.

Tim Rew, 48, had struggled with drug and alcohol abuse for years. After a 2006 car wreck, he told his father he was clean. Dr. Rew believed him and prescribed 120 pills of the painkiller Roxicodone. The younger Rew was found dead the same day.

The federal charges Dr. Rew now faces are not related to his son's death.

After being arrested Tuesday at his office, Rew himself tested positive for opiates and barbiturates, Howard-Allen said.

Rew's state medical license doesn't expire until January 2011, state records show. But in order to be released on a $50,000 bond, Rew agreed Tuesday to stop practicing until the court tells him otherwise. That includes not writing prescriptions, warned U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark A. Pizzo.

"Yes, I understand," said the white-haired Rew, handcuffed among other inmates.

Rew of Odessa could get up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the oxycodone charges, five years for the hydrocodone and three years for the alprazolam, the generic name for Xanax.

After court, his attorney and wife had no comment.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Tampa doctor accused of improperly issuing pain pills 03/24/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 25, 2009 6:41am]
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