A three-year investigation into drug use by Rush Limbaugh ended abruptly when the conservative commentator was booked on a single charge of prescription fraud in a deal his attorney says spares him a trial.
The charge will be dropped if Limbaugh continues treatment, attorney Roy Black said Friday.
“He feels that a great burden has been lifted from his shoulders,” he said. “What he told me is that this is the first day of the rest of his life.”
Limbaugh surrendered at the Palm Beach County Jail and was booked on a warrant charging him with “doctor shopping,” when a patient illegally deceives multiple physicians to receive overlapping prescriptions.
The 55-year-old commentator left an hour later, after he was photographed and fingerprinted and he posted $3,000 bail, said Teri Barbera, spokeswoman for the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office.
Under the terms of the deal with prosecutors called a pretrial diversion, to be filed Monday, Limbaugh will be cleared of the charge if he stays clean for 18 months and doesn’t violate any laws, Black said.
Limbaugh has publicly acknowledged being addicted to pain medication.
According to the warrant, sometime between February and August 2003, Limbaugh withheld information from a medical practitioner from whom he sought to obtain a controlled substance or a prescription for a controlled substance.
'He was in high spirits'
As a formality, Limbaugh entered a not guilty plea to the charge, spokesman Tony Knight said. The radio giant has maintained his innocence throughout the investigation.
“He was in high spirits,” Knight said. “It was all a formality. It’s a concluded deal.”
Under the deal, Limbaugh also agreed to pay the state $30,000 to defray the public cost of the investigation and must pay $30 per month for the cost of supervision, during which time he will continue regular drug tests.
Mike Edmondson, spokesman for the state attorney’s office, said prosecutors had not yet received the signed agreement.
“I am not disputing the facts, the conditions that Black represented, but until his client signed the agreement, we don’t have a full agreement,” Edmondson said. “I am sure it’s just a timeline issue.”
He refused to comment further.
Clean for 2½ years
Black said Limbaugh has been drug free for 2½ years. After 18 months, “he will not have any criminal record,” he said.
Prosecutors began investigating Limbaugh in 2003 after The National Enquirer reported his housekeeper’s allegations that he had abused OxyContin and other painkillers. He soon took a five-week leave from his radio show to enter a rehabilitation program and acknowledged he had become addicted to pain medication. He blamed it on severe back pain.
“The agreement that we entered into makes good common sense,” Black said. “The idea is to help the person overcome the addiction ... There should be a recognition that people like Rush really should not be prosecuted.”
Prosecutors seized Limbaugh’s medical records after learning that he received about 2,000 painkillers, prescribed by four doctors in six months, at a pharmacy near his Palm Beach mansion. The investigation was held up as prosecutors and Black battled in court over whether the records were properly seized.
Limbaugh reported five years ago that he had lost most of his hearing, saying it was caused by an autoimmune inner-ear disease. He had surgery to have an electronic device placed in his skull to restore his hearing. But research shows that abusing opiate-based painkillers can also cause profound hearing loss.
Before his own problems became public, Limbaugh had decried drug use and abuse and mocked President Clinton for saying he had not inhaled when he tried marijuana. He often made the case that drug crimes deserve punishment.
“Drug use, some might say, is destroying this country. And we have laws against selling drugs, pushing drugs, using drugs, importing drugs. ... And so if people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up,” Limbaugh said on his short-lived television show on Oct. 5, 1995.
During the same show, he commented that statistics that show blacks go to prison more often than whites for the same drug offenses only illustrate that “too many whites are getting away with drug use.”