Las Vegas Sun

November 26, 2015

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Doctor linked to patient deaths suing out of spite, witness says


Steve Marcus

Kevin Buckwalter, the former physician, no longer practices medicine after the state Board of Medical Examiners and the Drug Enforcement Administration last year revoked his licenses to prescribe controlled substances. He had been linked to eight patient deaths.

Dr. Buckwalter, In His Own Words

A Deposition of Dr. Buckwalter.

Sun Topics

A nationally known pain specialist says she’s become the target of intimidation for speaking out against a Henderson doctor who has been linked by authorities to multiple deaths and lost his license to prescribe controlled substances.

Dr. Andrea Trescot, a Jacksonville, Fla., specialist and past president of the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, said her legal fees to fight a defamation lawsuit filed by Dr. Kevin Buckwalter are at least $20,000.

“I feel this is retaliation and an effort to intimidate a witness,” Trescot said.

After Trescot commented on Buckwalter’s practices in Las Vegas Sun articles in 2008, the Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners and the Drug Enforcement Administration stripped him of his license to prescribe controlled substances, saying at least eight of his patients had died since 2005 from drugs he prescribed.

“Unfortunately, there are a few doctors using their position of trust in our communities to prey on those who are vulnerable to the abuse of these drugs,” Timothy Landrum, a DEA special agent, said at the time.

Buckwalter, a family physician who is not practicing, is contesting the medical board and DEA decisions.

Bryce Buckwalter, the doctor’s brother and attorney, said Trescot should be held accountable for her comments.

“She said defamatory statements, so I’m going to go after her and see what the jury says,” he said.

The Sun was researching a story about Buckwalter’s medical practice and sought experts to review his treatment of patients who claimed they had become addicted to narcotics under his care. The medical records of some patients showed they had overdosed and died from the powerful pills. Others, whose records showed they had been prescribed large quantities of narcotics by Buckwalter, told the Sun the drugs had ruined their lives.

Four pain specialists said in the Sun’s stories Buckwalter’s prescription of the narcotics appeared to be reckless and had no basis in standard medical practice, based on the patient records they reviewed. Trescot and Dr. David Kloth of Danbury, Conn., also a nationally recognized pain specialist, were the only two to speak on the record. Kloth is not being sued by Buckwalter.

In the first story the Sun wrote about Buckwalter, published in September 2008, Trescot, who wrote a guide for prescribing opiates for the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, reviewed the records of a Las Vegas businessman who was receiving up to 1,100 narcotic doses a month from Buckwalter. Trescot said the records showed:

• No legitimate medical need for the narcotics.

• Multiple prescriptions at the same time for the same or equivalent medications.

• Quantities of pills “far above” a reasonable amount.

Under Buckwalter’s care, the businessman appears to have become addicted to the medications “either through maliciousness or blatant disregard of the dangers of this class of medicines,” which equates to malpractice or criminal behavior, Trescot said.

For a story the Sun published a month later, Trescot reviewed the records of a 19-year-old OxyContin addict who wrote in her journal that she went to Buckwalter allegedly to get off the drugs. Buckwalter put her on methadone, but stopped prescribing it after she overdosed, medical records show. He later ramped up her narcotics prescriptions, medical records show, including oxycodone, the primary ingredient in OxyContin. She later committed suicide.

Trescot said it was “not conscionable” to give narcotics to a patient who had overdosed on them. “At the very least he needs to have his license pulled now,” she said.

She and Kloth were so alarmed by the records they reviewed, she said, that they wrote a letter to the DEA about Buckwalter.

Trescot offered expert statements in lawsuits filed against Buckwalter on behalf of patients who died or became addicted to pain medications, allegedly because of his treatment.

The Buckwalter brothers filed their lawsuit against Trescot in November 2009 in District Court in Clark County, but it has since been moved to federal court.

Trescot believes she is being sued to discourage her from providing expert trial testimony in the lawsuits that patients, or their loved ones in cases where the patient died, have filed against Buckwalter. There have been settlement discussions, but Trescot said if she settles it could discourage other physicians from speaking out against bad doctors.

“I feel strongly that physicians who are practicing poor medicine are putting patients’ lives at risk and should be brought before the legal authorities,” Trescot said.

Bryce Buckwalter told the Sun that Trescot needs to prove the statements she said about his brother are true. “The only defense against defamation is absolute truth,” he said. “Unless you can prove them with absolute certainty you can be on the hook for defamation.”

But Mitch Langberg, a Los Angeles-based defamation attorney the Sun has used to review its investigative stories, including those about Buckwalter, said Bryce Buckwalter is “absolutely 100 percent wrong.”

Langberg, who typically represents plaintiffs in defamation suits, including Steve Wynn, Martha Stewart and Aretha Franklin, said Buckwalter has the burden of proving Trescot’s statements were false. This will be even more difficult because of the findings of the medical board and DEA, Langberg said. Buckwalter would need to reveal all the facts about each case in question, Langberg said, which he might be reticent to do.

No matter the burden of proof, the case could be expensive for Trescot to defend, Langberg said.

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