On January 18, 2011, jurors in Harris County sent a message to health care providers when they awarded $10.1 million in damages to the family of an overdose victim, Michael Skorpenske. According to jurors interviewed following the verdict, this was a clear message to “pill mills” that have turned Houston into a center for prescription drug abuse. “Our verdict shows how much our community is against these pill mills and wants things to change,” according to juror Lauren Simmons. Tim Bammel, another juror in the case, stated that the verdict “should discourage others who might be improperly churning out the addictive drugs that killed Skorpenske.”
Michael Skorpenske, 54, died on July 7, 2007 just two days after his only visit to the Family Medi Clinic in The Woodlands, Texas. Skorpenske sought treatment at Family Medi Clinic for the chronic pain that he suffered from a motorcycle injury and a fall at a petrochemical plant. Skorpenske received a prescription for hydrocodone, xanax, and soma. Dr. Maurice Conte had prescribed this same drug cocktail, known as the “holy trinity,” at least 3,800 times between 2006 and 2007 and did so at more than 17 pain area clinics. However, Conte was forced to surrender his medical license to the Texas Medical Board just three days after Skorpenske died.
Skorpenske’s mother, Augusta Jackson, stated after the verdict, “Maybe some of those pill clinics will shut down. Let’s hope.”