A former pharmacist in Sidney admitted federal allegations Tuesday that he distributed a prescription painkiller that caused the death of a local resident.
Ben Willard Hunn, 47, of Great Falls, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Billings to distribution of Vicodin, which is a brand name for hydrocodone, resulting in death. The drug distribution caused the Oct. 19, 2013 death of a 24-year-old person identified in court records as K.B.
A plea agreement with Assistant U.S. Attorney Paulette Stewart calls for 13 other counts in an indictment to be dismissed at sentencing if the judge approves the deal.
“I made a colossally bad judgment,” Hunn told U.S. District Judge Susan Watters.
Hunn said he prescribed Vicodin to K.B., after “much pleading” from her and despite his attempts to say no, knowing she did not have a prescription.
In addition to Vicodin, Hunn also distributed to Soma to K.B., a painkiller and muscle relaxer; Ambien, a sleep aid; and Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication, Stewart said.
The evidence, Stewart said, would show that for a year beginning in October 2012, Hunn, a licensed retail pharmacist, distributed controlled drugs to K.B., who died on Oct. 19, 2013, the same day Hunn distributed all four drugs to her.
An autopsy report listed the probable cause of death as a “mixed drug overdose,” Stewart said.
The medical examiner and toxicologists in the case also found that the amount of Vicodin in K.B.’s system was “toxic or fatal by itself,” Stewart said.
Hunn admitted to investigators to diverting controlled substances to K.B. and to K.B.’s parents for about a year.
Hunn told investigators that he “stocked up the whole family,” Stewart said.
U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter said in a news release that the conviction addresses one of Montana’s “most harmful yet quiet problems — the misuse of otherwise legitimate medications.”
Hunn’s prosecution demonstrates the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s “continued commitment to identifying those individuals who illegally divert otherwise legitimate medication and misuse their position of trust for personal gain to the detriment of all our communities,” said David Schiller, DEA’s assistant special agent in charge.
The investigation was part of Project Safe Bakken, a joint effort among federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies in Montana and North Dakota.
Hunn faces a maximum of 15 years in prison and a possible $500,000 fine.
Watters ordered Hunn into custody pending sentencing, which she set for Nov. 5.