Former 3 Doors Down guitarist Matthew Roberts died of an overdose two years ago, but the trial of the Eastern shore doctor accused of illegally prescribing potent opioids to him is just starting.
Dr. Richard Snellgrove was indicted on 13 criminal charges in October 2016 — only two months after Roberts overdosed and died in Wisconsin during a trip to perform with another band. His body was found in the hallway of his hotel Aug. 20, 2016.
In an affidavit filed in the case, a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent wrote that Roberts was found with a guitar case beside him and time-released fentanyl patch on his body.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Bodnar told the jury the fentanyl patch on Roberts’ body was one he’d been improperly prescribed by Snellgrove before he left Alabama, adding that the government would prove he knew Roberts was abusing the drugs he’d supplied for years.
Fentanyl is the most potent legal opioid on the market, and its only FDA approved use is for the treatment of breakthrough pain in cancer patients who are not getting relief from weaker pain medicines. However, it can be — and has been — prescribed “off label” for other reasons.
According to the his initial indictment, Snellgrove had treated Roberts since 2005, and during that time prescribed the musician drugs including oxycodone, lorazepam and eventually fentanyl. He’s also accused of writing prescriptions for Roberts’ family members he knew were for Matthew.
In a superseding indictment, prosecutors added charges accusing Snellgrove of healthcare fraud for writing prescriptions for opioid medications to Jeremy Ryals — Roberts cousin and roommate — because Roberts’ insurance wouldn’t pay for fentanyl, which is typically very expensive.
Snellgrove has maintained his innocence since his indictment. His lawyers have painted Roberts out to be a “doper” who manipulated a good doctor to get controlled medicines.
However, Bodnar has said the core of the case boils down to how Snellgrove — a medical professional — prescribed medicines he knew were dangerously addictive and whether or not those drugs directly caused Roberts’ death.
“No one is disputing that Matthew Roberts had a drug problem, and there were other drugs in his system [when he died],” Bodnar told the jury. “The question is, what killed him? The United States contends Matthew Roberts died from the fentanyl prescribed to him by the defendant.”
In his response, defense attorney Dennis Knizley accused the government of building a case off Roberts’ death because he had “some sort of notoriety” as a founding member of 3 Doors Down, though he hasn’t played or toured with the group since 2012.
Knizley said the government worked backwards from the 2016 overdose to target a “law abiding” doctor because a “rockstar” who “lived the good life” had taken a lot of drugs, overdose and died.
“He was not a subject of an investigation before [Roberts] died,” he said. “This is not a malpractice case. It’s not about whether [Snellgrove] was a great doctor. This is a criminal case for distribution of a controlled substances just like the cocaine dealer on the side of the street.”
The prosecution team bringing the case against Snellgrove is same that saw Dr. John Patrick Couch and Dr. Xiulu Ruan convicted of 19 criminal charges in 2017. The motive in that case, Bodnar said at the time, was “greed” and putting “profits over patients.”
Kizley says that isn’t the case with Snellgrove, who is not accused of pocketing money or receiving kickbacks for prescribing certain drugs. Knizley also noted the insurance fraud claims his client is facing stem from $168 and $65 payments made, not to him, but to pharmacies.
He also accused Roberts’ father of claiming he was never a patient of Snellgrove but changing his mind three days before the trial as well as misleading prosecutors about what he knew of a prescription Snellgrove wrote for him that ultimately ended up in Matthew’s possession.
Knizley said he’s prepared to present evidence that Snellgrove had tried to wean Roberts’ off of drugs but was misled by both Roberts and his associates on several occasions. As an example, he said Snellgrove asked for a police report after Roberts claimed his medication had been stolen.
“Why would he have to make up these lies about stolen medication if he could just get it so freely?” he asked the jurors.
Correction – May14, 10:20 p.m. — An earlier version of this article stated that Jeremy Ryals was a friend of Matthew Roberts. Ryals was, in fact, Matthew’s cousin as well as his roommate for several years leading up to his death in 2016.