Take Two Bottles of These. Call Me When You're Dead

Dr. Willard Hunter's repeated misprescription of dangerous drugs has contributed to two deaths. But the state medical board doesn't see any reason to revoke his doctor's license.

He is also licensed in Utah, where he can practice with no restrictions at all.

"It is obviously very enticing to pick out one case that went bad," says Zonis, who at one point threatened to push for the revocation of Hunter's license but later agreed to the 1995 plea bargain that allowed the doctor to continue practicing medicine. "Everyone looks back, has remorse and says we should have disciplined the doctor sooner.

"But for every Dr. Hunter, there are probably 20 to 30 other physicians who had the same problem [misprescribing drugs] and who the board never hears from again."

The death of Geraldine Dodson could not have been more wrenching for her daughter, who asked that her real name be concealed in this article to protect her school-age children who do not know their grandmother was a drug addict.

The daughter, "Michelle," now 37, had spent much of her life trying to wean her mother from prescription drugs. She failed in the end. And she blames Dr. Hunter.

Off drugs, Dodson was energetic and entertaining. On drugs, she might fall into such a stupor that she could no longer chew or swallow. Or she might be so crazed that she'd threaten to kill her children.

"It was like a roller coaster with Mom; you never knew what to expect," Michelle says.

Geraldine Dodson had been hooked on prescription drugs off and on since 1970, when Michelle was 11 years old. As a child, Michelle would sometimes run, along with her two brothers, to a neighbor's house for safety. After she grew up, Michelle married that same neighbor's son. She had kids of her own. She's tried to do the things her own mother couldn't do, like volunteer in the school, chauffeur, be available.

Michelle knew what it was like to have a mother who wasn't available.
Dodson's prescription-drug addiction began when she was hired as a secretary for a doctor. Her boss prescribed Valium for her nerves, and Dodson liked it. Soon, she was phoning in her own prescriptions. And writing them.

Velma Eichenlaub, Dodson's sister, recalls that she and other members of the family once confronted Dodson about several forged prescriptions they discovered rolled up in an empty pill bottle. Those aren't mine, Dodson told her sister. Why would I write fake prescriptions?

The police got ahold of another set of bogus scripts, however, and Dodson was convicted in 1974 of forging prescriptions; she was put on probation.

Dodson met her second husband, Bill, at a Phoenix rehab center for drug and alcohol abusers. (After Geraldine's death, Bill moved to Black Canyon City, where he died, the family says, of acute alcoholism.)

She must have known that Michelle, although an adult, still hungered for a normal mother. In 1980, when Michelle was 21, Dodson finally mustered the strength to check herself into St. Luke's Behavioral Health Center to clean up. It cost her $10,000--her life savings.

She remained clean for five years, got a job as an apartment manager. She was married to Bill, in touch with her three adult children, happy.

Then, in 1985, she fell off a ladder while hanging some curtains in a vacant apartment and injured her neck.

She went to Dr. Hunter after the neck injury. Fix my neck, Michelle remembers Dodson telling Hunter, but don't let me get hooked on drugs again. Hunter assured both mother and daughter that the pills he would prescribe would not be addictive.

But pharmacy records show that Hunter prescribed Dodson more than $5,000 worth of Vicodin, Tylenol with codeine, Soma and Placidyl, each of which, according to the Physicians' Desk Reference, should be given with great care to patients with addictive tendencies.

After Dodson became readdicted, she slipped in and out of depression, which may explain why she attempted suicide just two months before she died. The suicide attempt was serious--she swallowed a cocktail of the same kinds of pills, all prescribed by Hunter, that eventually killed her.

Dodson's life was saved by doctors at Maryvale Samaritan Hospital, who diagnosed her as a severely depressed, suicidal drug addict. When Dodson was released five days later, she vowed to stay clean, to join a drug-rehab program.

Instead, she went back to Dr. Hunter.
And Hunter had been warned, says Michelle, not to give her mother more drugs.

After her mother's near-fatal drug overdose, Michelle says she telephoned Hunter's office manager and asked her to notify Hunter about her mother's condition.

Hunter himself noted in records that Dodson had been "hospitalized at Maryvale" for a possible drug reaction. He did not call the Maryvale doctors for a briefing on his patient's condition, however, and they are unsure whether they called Hunter. Hunter later testified that he did not know Dodson had a drug problem.

And he refilled Geraldine Dodson's prescriptions three more times before she died of the second overdose.

Michelle insists the second overdose was not a suicide attempt. There was no suicide note, she says, ignoring the fact that her mother left no note the first time.

"Things were getting better for Mom," she says stubbornly. Just the day before she died, Michelle says, Geraldine Dodson helped her daughter plan a family birthday party.

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