NEWNAN, Georgia – 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. Prosecutors said Astin prescribed painkillers and other drugs to known addicts for years. They said at least two of Astin's patients died because of his lax oversight of what medicines they were taking.
The indictment was unclear about whether Chris Benoit, a wrestler for Stamford, Connecticut-based World Wrestling Entertainment, or his wife were among 19 patients included in the investigation. They were not among the two patients prosecutors said died because of Astin's actions.
"I take full responsibility," Astin told the judge Tuesday. "I am sorry I hurt so many lives. I was thinking that I was looking after my patients."
U.S. District Judge Jack Camp said there was no doubt Astin tried to help hundreds of patients at his western Georgia clinic. But the judge said he could not overlook the fact that at least two patients died as a result of Astin's misconduct.
"The fact that two people did die outweighs other conditions that I must consider," Camp said.
A federal investigation found Astin wrote prescriptions without conducting physical exams and sometimes gave patients as many as four simultaneous prescriptions for Percocet. He also prescribed "cocktails" of drugs like Percocet, Oxycontin, Vicodin and Adderall.
"Medical doctors know that after a period of time, if the prescriptions are not working, you get them off," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Horn said during the hearing.
Investigators cited one case in which an unidentified female patient began receiving a combination of drugs, including Xanax, from Astin in 2002. She died in June 2007, the same month authorities discovered the bodies of wrestler Chris Benoit, his wife and son 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.
Astin's sentence was lighter than the recommended 11 to 13 years in jail. More than 50 of the counts against Astin each carried a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.