Aaron Smoot lay in his bed, eyes open, stone cold to the touch, dead of an overdose.
Divorced and often depressed, Smoot had been sick for some time. His family had not seen or heard from him for days. At 43, he was a known drug addict, who lived by himself in southeast Oklahoma City. His parents said Aaron, the oldest of five children, had struggled for years with his bipolar condition.
“So, that day, I crawled through the window, and there I saw Aaron, lying in bed …horribly disfigured, you know, from drugs,” his father, Dwight Smoot, 71, said recently while sitting at the kitchen table of the family’s home in rural southwest Oklahoma City. “Death is an ugly, ugly thing.”
It was Aug. 18, 2011. The medical examiner would later determine that Smoot died of acute drug toxicity. Tests found he had powerful pain killers and anti-anxiety medications in his system.
Patient records obtained by authorities indicated that Smoot had been diagnosed with anxiety disorder, irritable bowel syndrome and low back pain. His doctor, Cecil Allen Moore, had written Smoot hundreds of prescriptions for highly addictive pills each month at Vista Medical Center in south Oklahoma City, beginning in February 2011.
Authorities eventually linked Moore’s prescribing practices to the overdose deaths of at least nine of his patients in 2010 and 2011, including Smoot.
In 2012, a state board revoked Moore’s medical license and he is no longer practicing.
“They were not monitoring him,” Aaron’s Smoot’s mother, Jill Smoot, 67, said of her son’s treatment. “They didn’t care.”
Dwight Smoot, a retired electrical engineer, also blamed the clinic, which is owned by Oklahoma City businessman Patrick Reynolds.
“There’s a huge drug culture out there … an illegal drug culture. It’s rampant. It’s out-of-control wildfire,” Dwight Smoot said. “An irresponsible pain management clinic just adds fuel to the fire. They should be more responsible. I always thought doctors were here to save lives … that’s what they’re trained for … and here they’re abusing life. I don’t think they’re treating pain, they’re just giving pills. And making money. Lots and lots of money.”
Administrators who turn a blind eye to the overprescribing of potentially deadly narcotics — or openly encourage it to increase a clinic’s revenue — are just as culpable as the doctors who sign the prescription pads, Dwight Smoot said.
“If there’s a legal liability there, he should be held accountable, and the enforcement agencies here in Oklahoma should deal with that,” Dwight Smoot said. “But, if there’s not, then the legislative people — our representatives — need to pass laws to hold that person accountable. Those drugs are dangerous…and not only to those who use them.”
Jill Smoot said her son shoulders some of the blame for his death, though she points out that Aaron was a legitimate pain patient who suffered from bleeding ulcers.
Dwight Smoot said his son was artistic and could be the life of the party. Aaron Smoot went to college, but never graduated. He worked as a janitor, insurance salesman and as a Sears associate.
“Aaron was very intelligent, charismatic and very outgoing at times,” the father said. “When Aaron was what I call normal, he was a delight to be around … He was a joy to be around.”
Contributing: Oklahoma Watch Reporter Warren Vieth, Oklahoman Enterprise Editor Phillip O’Connor and Oklahoman Medical Reporter Jaclyn Cosgrove.
Sign up for a weekly newsletter from Oklahoma Watch
Please consider donating to Oklahoma Watch in support of nonpartisan, in-depth, investigative journalism on some of the most important, challenging public-policy issues facing our state today.