- Associated Press - Thursday, January 23, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - An Oklahoma County judge Thursday scheduled a Feb. 26 preliminary hearing for a former doctor facing murder and drug distribution charges after eight of his patients reportedly died of prescription drug overdoses and another allegedly caused a fatal traffic accident.

Special Judge Susan Johnson scheduled the hearing for Dr. William Valuck, who was arrested in December at his home in Texas and is being held in the Oklahoma County Jail. The hearing will determine whether crimes have been committed and whether there is probable cause that Valuck committed them and should be tried on the charges.

Johnson also appointed the Oklahoma County Public Defender’s Office to represent Valuck after he testified that he had no financial assets and could not hire an attorney.

Chief public defender Bob Ravitz said Valuck claimed to have earned between $150,000 and $200,000 a year before he surrendered his medical license last month. Valuck claims he spent all of his money in shutting down the private clinic he had operated.

Dressed in a gray-striped jail-issued jumpsuit and shackled by chains at the wrists and ankles, Valuck also claimed to owe the federal government $375,000 in connection with fines that were issued against him, Ravitz said. Court records show Valuck was convicted in 2000 in federal court in Texas over an investment scheme and was ordered to pay restitution to victims.

Valuck did not respond to reporters’ questions after the hearing. Ravitz said he had not had a chance to study the charges against Valuck and declined to comment on the case.

Valuck is charged with nine counts of first-degree murder and 72 counts of distributing a controlled substance. Authorities say eight of Valuck’s patients died of overdoses of the drugs he was prescribing to them, and they say another patient caused a fatal traffic accident.

An affidavit for an arrest warrant for Valuck says federal and state authorities have been investigating him since January 2013, and it alleges he “prescribed controlled dangerous substances without a legitimate medical need and in quantities and under circumstances which constitute unlawful distribution of controlled dangerous substances.”

The affidavit by an agent with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control states that analysis of the Oklahoma Prescription Monitoring Program shows Valuck was “by far the largest prescriber of (controlled dangerous substances) in the state of Oklahoma” during the time he was under investigation, prescribing more than 12,000 such prescriptions than the second-largest prescriber in the state.

“Our investigation has revealed that during a period of approximately one year, Dr. Valuck prescribed extremely large amounts of controlled substances including the most abused prescription drugs on the street, to numerous patients with very little medical examination or the establishment of a valid doctor-patient relationship,” according to the affidavit.

Valuck prescribed drugs including the narcotic painkillers Hydrocodone and Oxycodone as well as Alprazolam, Valium and Soma. The affidavit says Valuck would prescribe as many as 600 of the pills at a time.

It also says some pharmacies around Valuck’s clinic had refused to fill prescriptions he issued. One, a Walgreen’s, refused to fill any of Valuck’s prescriptions after making a “good faith determination that the prescriptions were issued for other than legitimate medical reasons.”

The affidavit says Valuck surrendered his medical license before a meeting of the Oklahoma State Board of Osteopathic Examiners, which was scheduled to consider disciplining Valuck.

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