Doctor prescribed pills that killed his son

A Tampa doctor may be the state's biggest prescriber. His son's death won't change that.

By ABBIE VANSICKLE, Times staff writer
Published February 24, 2008

Dr. John Rew provides powerful painkillers to those who hurt.

He prescribes narcotics so liberally, in fact, that he believes police are watching.

Rew has no plans to change, even after he prescribed a drug that killed his own son.

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Rew's office is tucked in a strip mall on Busch Boulevard, a road one Tampa police captain calls Hollywood Boulevard because of all the pain clinics.

Born in Iowa, Rew, 82, a calm and polite man, became a doctor after military service. He trained as an anesthesiologist.

He began practicing in Tampa in 1960 and later opened a solo practice.

"I don't do anything that's illegal," he says. "I don't sell drugs. I don't collaborate with any pharmacies. I think you could probably consider this a squeaky clean office."

An agent from the Drug Enforcement Administration visited the clinic about six months ago, Rew says.

Rew, who has no disciplinary history with the state, says the agent told him that he was the state's top prescriber of narcotics.

"I think I'm probably rather well known for that," he says. "That word gets around. I'm fairly liberal with the use of narcotics. My point is that you have to give them enough or it's not worth it."

The DEA declined to comment on Rew.

Rew cites major studies that say many of the chronic pain patients in the United States are underprescribed. He says his 400 patients are not among those, and he's proud of that.

Rew says he stops treating patients who overdose or doctor-shop. He only takes referrals.

He estimated 10 of his patients have died of overdoses.

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Dr. Rew's son Tim had struggled with drugs and alcohol for years.

His troubles began at Dade City High School in Pasco County, where he ran with a bad crowd. He moved to California in the 1970s, and his drug use became worse, Dr. Rew says.

"He lost a business, he tried the patience of people in his life. It took him down. He'd get back up but he wasn't able to stay sober," says Tim's sister, Rebecca Rew Hornbuckle.

His family believes he wanted to get clean.

"He did struggle to get sober," Hornbuckle says. "He had a lot of people in his life who loved him very much. He was not a down-and-out person. He had a lot to live for."

In May 2006, Tim, 48, was visiting his father in Tampa. A car wreck sent him to the hospital with an arm injury.

The next day, Tim told his father the hospital wouldn't give him painkillers to last until he returned to New Jersey, where he worked for J.C. Penney.

Tim told his father he was clean. Dr. Rew believed him. He prescribed 120 pills of the painkiller Roxicodone.

Later that day, Tim Rew was found dead in bed of an overdose of three painkillers, including oxycodone, the active ingredient in Roxicodone. The other drugs causing his death were morphine, codeine and Xanax.

Dr. Rew says he wouldn't have prescribed the pills if he had known his son was still struggling with addiction.

But he says his son is to blame for his death. Dr. Rew won't let that tragedy alter his principles about prescribing pills to people with chronic pain.

"Tim was a thoughtless, impulsive person who just did things without thinking what the consequences would be," he says.

Tim's sister agrees.

"I blame Tim," she says. "I just think he made a really bad choice."