Thursday, Nov. 13, 2008 | 12:21 p.m.
Beyond the Sun
Nevada health authorities this morning stripped Dr. Kevin Buckwalter of his license to prescribe controlled substances, alleging four cases of malpractice, including one patient death due to excessive prescribing of narcotics.
The Nevada Board of Medical Examiners found that Buckwalter’s records were incomplete and did not justify the quantities of controlled substances he was prescribing to the patients. In the case of the patient death, Buckwalter prescribed “excessive” doses of the narcotic painkillers OxyContin and Kadian in 2004 and 2005, documents show.
The Las Vegas Sun has previously reported the cases of four other Buckwalter patients who were given prescriptions by the Henderson doctor that lead to their overdoses or deaths. Experts who reviewed the patients’ records on behalf of the Sun said Buckwalter was negligent, committed malpractice and should lose his medical license.
During an emergency meeting Thursday, the board summarily suspended Buckwalter’s license to prescribe drugs like Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication; hydrocodone, the narcotic in the brand name drugs Vicodin and Lortab and oxycodone, the primary ingredient in OxyContin.
Buckwalter was served with the decision this morning. His attorney has not responded to requests for comment.
The Nevada State Pharmacy Board also suspended Buckwalter’s license to prescribe controlled substances as a result of the medical board’s action. A fax was sent to all pharmacies in Nevada notifying them not to fill any prescriptions by Buckwalter for controlled substances.
Dr. Jerry Calvanese, an emergency medicine physician in Reno, reviewed Buckwalter’s records and wrote in an affidavit to state authorities that the “vast majority of records include essentially no physical exam” and that there are concerns Buckwalter has administered inappropriate narcotic shots in his office without taking proper precautions to protect patients. He called Buckwalter’s records “vague, haphazard and illegible,” and not up to expected standards.
The families of patients who died while under Buckwalter’s care expressed relief that the medical board had taken action, along with a critique that nothing was done sooner. Complaints about Buckwalter were sent to the medical board as far back as 2005, the Sun found in its investigation.
In some cases, lives might have been saved by prompt medical board action, family members say. In an 11-day period in August, Buckwalter prescribed 310 oxycodone pills to Staci Voyda, a drug addict whose drug of choice was OxyContin, Two weeks later, Voyda put a gun to her head and killed herself.
Her family says Buckwalter fueled Voyda’s addiction, contributing to her death.
Rene Kulon, Voyda’s mother, said this morning she was relieved Buckwalter can no longer prescribe the narcotic medicines, but hurt that her daughter was his “last victim.”
The suspension of Buckwalter’s license “could have happened before Staci even got a chance to walk into his office,” Kulon said. “It makes me angry they didn’t pursue this and get this doctor off the streets long ago.”
Buckwalter went to medical school at Ross University in the West Indies and was licensed to practice pediatrics and family medicine in Nevada in 1997.
Three of his former employees who spoke to the Sun described him as a kind-hearted but incompetent doctor who continued prescribing drugs to patients even when he was informed they were drug addicts, drug dealers or had overdosed from the medications.
The cases that led to the medical board’s suspension Thursday do not include patients who were included in the Sun’s reports. Several of the families of patients whose cases were examined by the Sun have filed complaints that are now being investigated by the medical board.
The Drug Enforcement Administration also has an ongoing investigation into Buckwalter’s prescribing habits, sources tell the Sun.
The Sun documented in September and October what experts who reviewed the cases called Buckwalter’s reckless and negligent pattern of prescribing drugs.
-- Buckwalter prescribed Michael Hammond, a Las Vegas business executive, more than 17,000 narcotic painkillers in 3 1/2 years, even after Hammond had overdosed on the pills.
-- Barbara Baile, 69, was prescribed heavy doses of narcotics by Buckwalter to treat her hip and back pain. Records show that a side effect of the drug, constipation, caused her bowels to rupture, poisoning her body. She died in April after an agonizing battle with sepsis. Her husband Don Baile told the Sun that he sat in on every appointment with Buckwalter and though his wife complained of constipation the doctor offered no remedy other than over-the-counter options. Experts who reviewed the case said Buckwalter should have removed the blockage manually or prescribed a drug to treat the constipation.
-- Clint and Andrea Duncan, a newlywed couple, both died within days of their first anniversary in 2005 as a result of overdoses caused by drugs prescribed by Buckwalter. Buckwalter said in a sworn deposition -- given on behalf of Andrea Duncan in an unrelated lawsuit ‹ that he did not examine her, did not order her records from other doctors and gave her large quantities of controlled substances because she asked for them.
Marshall Allen can be reached at 259-2330 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.