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Some drug charges dropped against Nova Scotia doctor accused of trafficking

Dr. Sarah Dawn Jones arrives at provincial court in Bridgewater, N.S. on April 3, 2017.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The trial of a Halifax-area doctor accused of trafficking tens of thousands of painkillers took an unexpected turn Thursday when the Crown withdrew two of the most serious charges.

Federal Crown prosecutor Josh Bryson said charges of trafficking oxycodone and possession for the purpose of trafficking were dropped in the case against Dr. Sarah Dawn Jones of Tantallon, N.S.

Bryson said the Crown withdrew the counts after realizing there wasn't a reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction.

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He said that after hearing from four witnesses, prosecutors realized they didn't have sufficient evidence to show the drugs weren't being provided to patient Merle Chase, who was receiving painkillers for a number of injuries he'd suffered over the years.

"I couldn't prove they weren't being given to Mr. Chase," Bryson said in an interview. "In Mr. Chase's testimony alone, we heard about five different frequencies at which pills were being delivered. It wasn't clear."

When police charged Jones last year, the Crown alleged she had prescribed 46,000 oxycodone and OxyNeo pills over an 18-month period.

Asked what became of the pills, Bryson said that remains unknown.

Jones is still facing three counts of fraud, one charge of illegal possession of oxycodone and one charge of drawing a document without authority.

Bryson said the Crown will continue to push forward on those charges.

"We have a realistic prospect of conviction with respect to the remaining charges," Bryson said. "It's going to considerably shorten the length of time that were set aside for the trial."

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Jones has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

In testimony Wednesday, Chase's former roommate said Jones brought Chase roughly 30 oxycodone pills a month, even though records showed thousands of pills were prescribed in his name.

Norma Wentzell gasped when Bryson read from a patient expense report that showed 2,000 OxyNeo pills were prescribed to Chase in one month during the 18-month time frame for the alleged offences.

Chase lived with Wentzell in Bridgewater, and she said Jones would make house calls in 2014 and 2015 to bring him his prescription drugs.

However, under cross-examination, defence lawyer Stan MacDonald pointed to apparent contradictions in Wentzell's testimony, including a statement that Jones's visits dropped off in 2015.

He showed the former retail worker a statement she gave to police in February 2016 in which she said Jones "went wild" in 2015 and was coming to the house "a lot."

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Chase had testified Tuesday that he did not receive the bulk of the prescriptions for OxyNeo, even though the patient expense report showed they were prescribed to him.

But Chase was not consistent in his testimony about how many OxyNeo prescriptions he actually received from Jones, how many pills he took and the last time he took them.

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