Drug case leaves acquitted
doctor's life in shambles




August 2006 - An old ambulance sits in Dr. Paul Heberle's front yard. A sticker pasted on the rear window reads, "Don't steal. The government hates competition."

Heberle had hoped to take the ambulance on house calls but now it's for sale, like almost everything else Heberle and his wife, Christine, own.

"If you see something you like, give me a price," Christine Heberle said.

It's been 16 months since state and federal agents raided Paul Heberle's eastside Erie medical office and three months since a jury acquitted him of Medicare fraud and overprescribing narcotics to his patients.

Heberle won his freedom but lost his medical practice and all of his money.

The couple may get kicked out of their Edinboro home because they can't pay the mortgage, and they had to file for bankruptcy protection to avoid having their Erie rental property sold at sheriff's sale.

"We don't know where we are going to live," said Heberle, 40. "I guess the house in Erie, though it's kind of a dump. We don't have any other choice."

Heberle doesn't feel like he won Paul Heberle has known tough times.

He and his wife lost a child, and a cocaine habit sent Heberle through drug rehabilitation on three different occasions.

But a sense of despair enters Heberle's voice when asked if he feels lucky to have been acquitted of charges that could have sent him to prison for 10 years or more.

"I sure don't feel like I won anything," said Heberle as he walked around a backyard pond. "I'm losing my house and could still lose the one in Erie. I can't practice medicine yet, and we owe people half a million dollars for student loans and legal fees."

The Heberles didn't have enough money last winter to heat their home properly. They used a portable propane heater to stay warm.

Paul Heberle hasn't worked since before the trial, and his wife just returned to work after injuring her left knee. Friends and the St. Martin Center have given them food, and they rely on Medicaid to pay for their health care.

"We have no hot water at the home in Erie," Heberle said. "There just isn't any money coming in."

Asked if he wants to practice medicine again, Heberle sighed before answering.

"What else am I going to do?" he asked. "I'm going to have to, but it's going to be a big pain to get everything back. Getting my license is just the first step."



Doctor's Background

WHO: Paul Heberle D.O.

SCHOOL: Graduated from General McLane High School in 1984, Gannon University in 1988, and the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1994. Served his medical residency at Millcreek Community Hospital from 1994 to 1996.

CAREER: Worked as a full-time emergency physician at Millcreek Community from 1996 to 2005 and practiced in many of the hospital's physician offices. He also was the hospital's director of inpatient detoxification in 2002 and provided medical care for patients of the methadone clinic until 2005. He opened his own office, South East Medical Center, in 2003.


'Who is going to hire me around here?'

Before Heberle can practice medicine again, he needs to register with the Drug Enforcement Agency for the right to prescribe controlled substances like narcotic drugs.

His original registration expired before the trial, and he couldn't renew it without a valid medical license.

"Once he gets his DEA registration and his medical license, he's golden," said Tony Ruffa, D.O., chairman of the Erie County Board of Health. "That's what he needs to practice medicine in Pennsylvania."

But Heberle isn't so optimistic. He said he still has to apply to all the private and government insurances so he can get reimbursed for treating patients.

"The whole process took me nine months, and that's when I was a medical resident and people were guiding me," Heberle said. "Nine months is a long time."

And opening a private office like the one he used to have is out of the question, Heberle said.

"I just don't have the money to do that," he said. "My only option is to work for somebody, but who is going to hire me around here?"


Now fighting for his home

Heberle opened a family medicine office in 2003 but ended up treating dozens of chronic-pain patients who needed high doses of powerful narcotics to ease their pain. Many of them were former patients of David Klees, D.O., who was convicted of charges similar to those Heberle faced.

Prosecutors claimed Heberle prescribed those drugs without trying alternatives and while ignoring his patients' signs of addiction. Heberle still says he did nothing wrong and was one of the few local physicians to help patients who deal with chronic pain.

"Now they have nowhere to go for pain treatment," Heberle said. "Everyone is afraid to treat them because they don't want to go through what Dr. Klees and I have gone through."

If he decides to practice medicine again, Heberle said, he assumes he will be hounded by the government. The senior deputy attorney general who prosecuted Heberle's case said the doctor would be treated no differently than any other physician.

"We don't discriminate,"Doug Wright said. "We wouldn't go after him just because of who he is. We would look at the merits of the case."

Wright added that he had no regrets about prosecuting Heberle in the first place.

"We felt we had a solid case,"he said. "We brought the case in good faith."

Now Heberle meets with attorneys - not to keep out of jail, but to save his home. He and his wife bought the two-story cottage and seven-and-a-half acres of land after driving past it one day around the time Heberle opened his practice. They liked the privacy, and the fact it was close to where they both grew up. Their plan was to live there, perhaps for the rest of their lives. Now they don't know if they will be there next month.

"This area is where Christine and I have lived almost all of our lives," Heberle said. "I want to stay here. It's our home."




"The Doctor Wasn't Cruel Enough"

How one physician escaped the panic over prescription drugs
By Maia Szalavitz




June 2006 - When Dr. Paul Heberle was arrested last April, dozens of chronic pain patients were left in agony. One of Heberle's patients called no fewer than 37 doctors seeking care˜all of whom refused to see him once he revealed the name of his prior provider. Finally, Robert Holmes, a 40-year-old man who suffers from a lung injury and requires supplemental oxygen to breathe, resorted to visiting a methadone clinic for drug addicts. He was turned away there, too. More than twenty others reported similar experiences at a meeting of patients affected by the arrest. Six would later attempt suicide.

For many patients, the situation was devastatingly familiar. Heberle had agreed to care for many of them after their previous physician was arrested and then convicted on some of the same charges that Heberle now faced: illegal prescribing of narcotics. That doctor, David Klees, got 12 to 24 years in prison. This time, however, the government would find it wasn't so easy to railroad a pain doctor.

In the last five years˜since a media panic over prescription drug abuse began with law-enforcement-driven reports of an "Oxycontin epidemic" dozens of doctors have been prosecuted for "overprescribing" painkillers. The Justice Department and the DEA have pushed this aggressive new campaign in the war on drugs.

Overwhelmingly, these cases have resulted in convictions with heavy prison terms˜or plea bargains with shorter sentences that nonetheless drove the doctors out of medicine. Advocates for pain patients report that, as a result, relief has been increasingly hard to find.

Fortunately, Heberle had an ally that Klees didn't: Siobhan Reynolds and her Pain Relief Network. As the DEA and local prosecutors went as far as creating a poster with Dr. Heberle's picture and the words "overprescribing controlled substances" and "Medicaid fraud" on it, Reynolds visited Erie, PA, to organize Heberle's patients and, for once, get their side of the story into the media.

Nearly all of the prior cases have followed a similar pattern. First, prosecutors blitz local media with reports of out-of-control prescription drug abuse problems and discuss the problem of "pill mills." Then, they swoop in with a SWAT team and arrest any doctor brave enough to actually treat chronic pain with doses of opioid medication large enough to work. They call him a "drug dealer" and "pusher with a pen."

Next, the prosecution brings out addicts for the cameras, who claim the doctor treated them without examining them and "caused" them to develop drug problems˜ but they don't mention the addicts' motivation for cooperating. In virtually all of these cases, addicts are motivated by reduced or dropped sentences charges from prosecutors, or by the hope of suing the doctors who got them "hooked." Prosecutors also usually fail to note that for most of these addicts, this is far from their first run-in with drug problems or the law.

At some point, however, the government team brings out its most devastating weapon: weeping relatives of patients who have died while under the doctor's care. Reporters are rarely keen to grill the grieving, so their stories tend to stress the prosecution's talking points rather than the fact that these deaths are virtually always either deliberate suicides or overdoses resulting from deliberate misuse of prescription medication. In the Heberle case, the death that started the investigation involved someone who had eaten a patch meant to be worn on the skin, thus immediately ingesting three days-worth of drugs.

Usually, the media buy the tale of evil substances and vile physician-pushers. But Reynolds offered a more compelling alternative narrative. She brought the suffering patients into the media eye. Rather than telling the tale of an evil drug-dealing doctor who brings down the poor addict, she and the patients provided another version of the story, in which the wonderful healer allows his grateful patients to function˜until the cops drag him away.

And in fact, Reynolds' account is more accurate. Some 90 percent of people who abuse Oxycontin also have histories of using cocaine and psychedelic drugs. Were most of these people innocent "victims" of evil doctors? Isn't it more likely that they were prior heavy drug users who sought additional drugs and, because there's no objective way of measuring pain, were able to get them from compassionate doctors? Aren't doctors who do believe people's accounts of pain exactly the ones we want in practice?

In the Heberle case, one prosecution expert told the Erie Times-News that the doctor was:

prescribing painkillers to patients with documented prior substance-abuse problems and/or mental impairment.

The paper didn't note that there is nothing illegal about this. Nor did the reporter seem to realize that there's something profoundly sick about assuming that people who are mentally impaired or have a history of drug problems never need strong pain medication.

Fortunately, in the Heberle case, the jury didn't buy the lies. Heberle made no profit from the prescriptions he wrote; he was a former addict himself who was monitored for abstinence. What possible reason could such a person have for deliberately supplying addicts? The only sensible way to see him was as a caring physician, who, like anyone else, does not have a "pain-o-meter" or fool-proof lie detection device in his head or office.

The defense presented expert testimony that laid out the complexities of pain treatment. Although the prosecution essentially put on a malpractice case˜representing violations of the standard of care as criminal when they actually are civil violations˜the defense beat them back. Their cross examination of a prosecution witness who claimed that certain opioids should only be used for cancer pain was especially effective. The defense simply exhibited a small practice guide which shows that the medications are recommended for other pain as well.

Also effective was the defense expert, Frank Fisher, MD, one of the few physicians to be exonerated after being prosecuted for over-prescribing. He called the prosecution "a crime against humanity," and in conjunction with the defense team, debunked the idea that cutting off pain medication to people with past or even present addictions does anything to help them.

"They showed addictionology for the sham science that it is," says Reynolds, explaining that in previous cases, the defense often had a hard time getting the jury to see that medications can't "make" people into addicts and that no one, addicted or otherwise, benefits from a system where doctors presume all pain is faked.

"The government position is that the doctor wasn't cruel enough," she adds, describing how hard it was for previous defense teams to debunk the notion that addiction can be prevented or treated by stopping or failing to prescribe pain medication.

"By making the pain patients real, we made the good guys and the bad guys change places˜and that's hard to do," she says.

Last week, Heberle was found not guilty on all charges. Unfortunately, at least one patient did not live to see the verdict. She had committed suicide, unable to find another doctor to prescribe the medications she needed. And Heberle, like Fisher, will no longer practice medicine, leaving many patients still without help.

As Reynolds asks, "How can they call this protecting the public health?" We hope the Heberle case is the beginning of the end of these senseless prosecutions.








Friends,

I reviewed medical records, examined patients, and testified on Dr. Heberle's behalf. Paul is a compassionate well-intentioned physician. Even given the relatively favorable outcome, his case establishes that within the field of pain management, no good deed goes unpunished.

I believe that a critical factor in Dr. Heberle's acquittal, apart from his excellent character and compassionate nature, is somehow the jury came to understand that his patients were human beings like the rest of us, rather than undeserving drug-addicted low lives, as pain patients reliant on opioids are typically viewed within our society.

Frank Fisher




Doctor acquitted of charges
he wrote illegal prescriptions




May 23, 2006 ERIE - A jury cleared a doctor of osteopathic medicine of charges he wrote illegal prescriptions for narcotics and other drugs, including $164,000 in unnecessary Medicaid prescriptions.

State prosecutors argued that Paul Heberle, 39, of Erie, disregarded his patients' safety and over-prescribed drugs. But some of the jurors who acquitted him after nine hours of deliberation that ended Monday told the Erie Times-News that Heberle did the best he could treating patients that other doctors didn't want.

State drug agents began investigating Heberle after one of his patients died in January 2005 from an apparent overdose of the painkiller fentanyl. Heberle contended the patient ripped open and ate a time-release patch that contained a two- to three-day supply of medicine.

Pharmacists told state agents them Heberle over-prescribed painkillers and authorities alleged he prescribed drugs without examining patients, which is illegal.

But Heberle's attorney, John Moore, said the strongest evidence in his favor was that the patients in question were already on painkillers when they became Heberle's patients.

Many of Heberle's patients were formerly treated by David Klees, another osteopath who was convicted of writing illegal prescriptions four years ago.

http://www.centredaily.com/mld/centredaily/news/14647224.htm




Erie PA Acquitted on All 28 Charges




May 2006 Erie, PA - Nearly one year following his splashy perp walk courtesy of Attorney General Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, physician Paul Heberle, D. O. was cleared of all charges by an Erie jury earlier today.

Citing a lack of evidence, the jury acquitted on the 14 controlled substances charges and the 12 Medicaid fraud counts that purportedly stemmed from Heberle's "criminal" prescribing. One controlled substance charge and one Medicaid fraud charge were dropped at the beginning of the trial which began a week and a half ago.

"Initially, the case was a combined effort by the DEA and the state of Pennsylvania but the Feds pulled out when we got involved. More and more we are seeing that they only follow through on prosecutions that they are certain they are going to win," said Siobhan Reynolds, President of Pain Relief Network, the organization credited with coordinating tactical support for the defense effort.

"Without the Pain Relief Network we would have been lost," said Christine Heberle, Dr. Heberle's wife.

"It isn't going to end here," Mrs. Heberle vowed "the world must come to understand what the state of Pennsylvania did to these patients, how they covered up evidence of actual drug diversion in order to 'get' Paul... and all the other terrible things going on here. They shouldn't be allowed to just do this to these doctors and patients."

Reynolds added that PRN will be calling for a formal investigation into the agents' conduct and that of the attorneys of the Attorney General's office. " Once people come to understand the degree to which this whole thing was an elaborate set up, designed it seems, to score political points, we hope that these prosecutions will be seen for what they are; government attacks on our most vulnerable population, those in severe chronic pain."

Noting that Heberle's patients' privacy was invaded in a wholesale manner simply because they took pain medications, and that patients were required to make statements to the prosecution in order to retrieve their medical charts after they had been seized, PRN vowed to expose the enormity of this systemwide misconduct.

"Unfortunately, this has become standard operating procedure for our government to destroy the lives of people in pain and their doctors. No one bats and eye when it happens. In this case, Dr. Heberle was forced to abandon scores of fragile souls by officials who are entrusted with protecting the public. We know of at least 5 attempted suicides and one completed suicide as a result of this prosecution."

PRN called on Senator Arlen Specter to protect these patients to no effect."Perhaps his office will show some suitable concern now," said Ms. Reynolds.

Dr. Heberle was relieved, "This has restored my faith in the judicial system," he said.

The Heberles, their attorneys John Moore and Don Wagner, Siobhan Reynolds, Dr. Frank Fisher, and Dr. Thomas Stinson (both of whom testified for the defense) are available for interview.






HEBERLE SUSPENDED ILLEGALLY




August 2004 - Dr Paul Heberle today was suspended from medical practice pending a hearing, on grounds that he "probably used drugs". The suspension issued without a trial. The state agency that suspended him, refused to perform a hair-sample test that would be probative of the drug-use allegation, which allegation originated from a woman recently released from a mental institution, who also claims that painkillers were being auctioned at the fundraiser we attended. Curiously, one member of the board that issued the suspension, was sued by Dr Heberle in 1999 for wrongfully denying him health insurance benefits, is still an officer of the firm that wrongfully denied the benefits, and should have recused herself from the panel owing to this obvious conflict of interest.

At 2 PM on Wednesday August 17, a hearing is scheduled in Erie on the criminal case (which seems to have more holes in it than the Titanic). Camera crews will be allowed in the hallway but not in the courtroom. Filming of the protest march, which will be held outside the courthouse, will also be feasible.




Patients Rally for Doctor Heberle




August 2005 - A local pain doctor in trouble with the law is speaking out as his patients rally around him.

Patients of Dr. Paul Heberle are getting ready to host a fundraiser to help pay for his defense this weekend at the French Quarter on Route 97.

They say a group called the Pain Relief Network - an organization that works with pain management physicians in similar situations as Heberle, has contacted them.

Federal agents raided Heberle’s Erie office on East 38th Street in April. He` is being blamed for at least two drug overdose deaths.

The Osteopathic physician is also charged with 15 drug violations and 13 counts of Medicaid fraud.

His patients said today that they are back in the same situation they were in before they became Dr. Heberle`s patients. They’re in chronic pain and getting denied treatment.




Charged doctor continues to see patients




August 2005 - He already lost his office -- and will soon lose his home and car -- but Paul Heberle, D.O., is still treating patients and prescribing narcotics.

Heberle was arrested May 31 and charged with Medicare fraud and writing illegal prescriptions for narcotics. If convicted, he faces up to 22 years in prison and nearly $3 million in fines.

"I am seeing some chronic-pain patients who have nowhere else to turn," Heberle said during an interview at his attorney's office. "I'm making house calls, though I'm not getting paid."

Heberle is free on $25,000 bond, awaiting his preliminary hearing that's scheduled for Aug. 17. His trial isn't expected until early 2006.

His East 38th Street office is closed. Millcreek Community Hospital, which owns the building, told Heberle it would not renew his lease. Hospital officials also fired him as an emergency physician and terminated his medical privileges at the hospital, Heberle said.

"I still have my medical license, my license to prescribe (narcotics) and malpractice insurance, so I have a legal right to see patients," Heberle said. "The only other doctor who is seeing any of them is a local doc who came out of retirement."

Norman Allen said he is relieved that Heberle can still treat him because every other doctor in town refuses to see him. Allen, 59, wears a Duragesic patch with the powerful painkiller fentanyl to relieve the constant pain from a 1990 back injury.

"I've tried to go to other doctors, but they refuse to see me as soon as I tell them I was one of Dr. Heberle's patients," Allen said.

Other patients also have rallied to Heberle's defense. They are hosting a fundraiser today to help with the doctor's legal defense.

Heberle's arrest came after a four-month investigation that included searches of his Edinboro home and his former medical office, Southeast Medical Center. State and federal agents seized files from more than a dozen patients. Local pharmacists told investigators that Heberle was excessively prescribing OxyContin and other narcotics to his patients.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett said at the time of Heberle's arrest that the doctor was "providing powerful and addictive prescription medication to patients for no valid medical reason."

Heberle said he was prescribing only the amount needed for people with chronic pain from illness or injury. "If I found out that someone was selling the drugs I prescribed, I kicked them out," Heberle said. "I didn't tolerate any of that."

Heberle said he sees a patient or two a day. He said he hasn't charged them or sought reimbursement from health insurers, partly because he doesn't have the proper forms to submit.

"I really don't have any income coming in," Heberle said. "I'm in the process of selling my house, and I'll have to give up my car, too." Still, Heberle said he would not have done anything different with his medical practice. "The first attorney told me to just get rid of my pain patients," Heberle said. "So I saw another attorney."





Doctors separate 'criminal' from 'legitimate' need




August 2005 - Ritch Wagner has a message for northwestern Pennsylvania physicians: Don't be afraid to prescribe narcotics, but make sure the patient has a legitimate medical need.

Wagner, a former Nebraska state trooper who now works for Purdue Pharmaceutical Co., recently spoke to physicians and staff at Hamot Medical Center and Saint Vincent Health Center.

"When doctors are afraid to prescribe narcotics and pharmacists are afraid to fill them, the only people impacted are legitimate patients," Wagner said. "You have criminals dictating access to medications, and that's not right."

Local patients with chronic pain have said they can't find doctors willing to treat their illnesses with the narcotic painkillers they need.

They said the situation worsened after the 2002 conviction of David Klees, D.O., and the May 31 arrest of Paul Heberle, D.O., on charges of writing illegal prescriptions.

"I called all sorts of doctors after Dr. Heberle closed his office, and I couldn't find anyone who would see me," said Norman Allen, a 59-year-old Erie man who uses a Duragesic patch to control pain from a 1990 back injury.

Doctors with the Saint Vincent Medical Group said they will see chronic-pain patients, but there are conditions.

One is that the patient signs a narcotics contract with the physician's office promising they will not seek narcotics from any other physician or try to sell the drugs on the street.

"These patients are no different than any other patients," said Gary Silko, M.D., director of the Saint Vincent family practice residency program. "If you can accommodate them into your schedule, you should see them just like a person with diabetes or hypertension. But if they don't want to follow a treatment plan or sign a narcotics contract, then they aren't going to be seen."

Doctors can protect themselves when prescribing narcotics by following a few simple rules, said Chris Clark, D.O., a Saint Vincent family physician whose office sees former patients of Klees and Heberle.

"There needs to be objective data to support a need for narcotics; we need to see a patient's medical records, including any imaging scans," Clark said. "A physical exam needs to be taken, and questions need to be asked."

Some patients will be asked to be weaned off narcotics and onto other, less-addictive pain-killers, Silko said.

"It takes a lot of effort, but it can be done," Silko said.

Wagner admitted during his talks at Hamot and Saint Vincent that state and federal agencies are looking at prescription drug abuse more closely. Still, physicians shouldn't worry, as long as they practice smart medicine.

"Document everything that goes on with your patient, look for signs of drug use, obtain a patient history and do a physical exam," Wagner said. "If you do all that, there shouldn't be a problem."





Erie doctor draws support for defense against painkiller charges



August 2005 - Dr. Paul Heberle has lost his emergency room job at Millcreek Community Hospital and the lease for his medical practice while awaiting trial on Medicare fraud charges, which could bring him up to 22 years in prison if he's convicted.

Heberle, of Edinboro, still sees a few patients - often by unpaid house calls - and is buoyed by supporters who hosted a fundraiser Saturday to help pay for his legal defense.

"I still have my medical license, my license to prescribe (narcotics) and malpractice insurance, so I have a legal right to see patients," Heberle told the Erie Times-News in an interview at his attorney's office.

He also has a court date on Aug. 17, when a district judge must determine whether he should stand trial on 15 counts of violating state drugs laws and 13 counts of Medicaid fraud for allegedly writing $163,548 worth of unnecessary prescriptions for Medicaid patients.

State drug agents started investigating Heberle after a patient died in January of an apparent overdose of the painkiller fentanyl. Heberle contends the patient ripped open and ate a time-release patch that contained a two- to three-day supply of medicine.

Erie County District Attorney Brad Foulk said area pharmacists reported that Heberle was over-prescribing drugs including OxyContin, a powerful and often abused painkiller. Heberle also prescribed drugs without examining the patients, which is illegal, Attorney General Tom Corbett said.

Despite the charges, some of Heberle's patients believe that he is their only hope. Norman Allen, 59, wears a patch that dispenses the powerful painkiller fentanyl to help him cope with a 15-year-old back injury.

"I've tried to go to other doctors, but they refuse to see me as soon as I tell them I'm one of Dr. Heberle's patients," Allen said.

Heberle said he never prescribed painkillers that were not necessary.

"If I found out that someone was selling the drugs I prescribed, I kicked them out. I didn't tolerate any of that," Heberle said.

Heberle is still seeing a couple of patients a day, but he doesn't charge them and isn't filing paperwork for insurance payments because he doesn't have access to the proper forms.

"I really don't have any income coming in. I'm in the process of selling my house and I'll have to give up my car, too," Heberle said.

Heberle's defenders acknowledge that many of his patients had previously been treated by another Erie doctor, David Klees, who was sentenced in January to 13 to 29 years in prison for writing illegal painkiller prescriptions. Two of Klees' patients died, but supporters of Heberle contend that he simply continued helping people that had been seeing Klees for their chronic pain.

Heberle said he wouldn't have run his medical practice any differently.

"The first attorney told me to just get rid of my pain patients," Heberle said. "So I saw another attorney."





Erie County DA Foulk announce charges against Erie County doctor for illegally prescribing drugs




May 31, 2005 (ERIE) - Attorney General Tom Corbett and Erie County District Attorney Bradley H. Foulk today announced that agents of the Attorney General's Bureau of Narcotics Investigation (BNI) have charged an Erie County doctor with writing illegal prescriptions for numerous drugs, including the addictive painkiller OxyContin.

Corbett said Dr. Heberle is charged with 15 violations of the state's drug law and 13 counts of Medicaid Fraud.

Corbett said BNI agents initiated the investigation in January of this year after receiving complaints from area pharmacists that Dr. Heberle was excessively prescribing narcotic drugs to his patients.

They also investigated the overdose death of a female patient of Dr. Heberle whom allegedly died of an overdose of the narcotic painkiller fentanyl, which he prescribed in the form of duragesic patches and Actiq, a fentanyl lozenge.

As part of their investigation, Corbett said, BNI agents examined records from various Erie pharmacies to determine a narcotic prescribing pattern of Dr. Heberle.


heberleposter

Poster put out by
the DEA








Doctor faces drug, fraud charge


May 2005 - A former patient of Paul Heberle, D.O., told authorities that the Erie doctor prescribed narcotics so freely, his office was a "drive-through for prescriptions."

Agents with the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office arrested Heberle on Tuesday morning and charged him with writing illegal prescriptions for narcotics and other drugs, including OxyContin.

"I'm not guilty of anything,"Heberle said as agents escorted him to a sport utility vehicle after his arrest. "I'm getting set up."

Heberle was arraigned before Erie District Judge Joseph LeFaiver and charged with 15 counts of violating state drug laws and 13 counts of Medicaid fraud. He was released after posting a $25,000 bond.

If convicted, Heberle faces up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each drug charge and seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine for each fraud charge.

The arrest comes after a four-month investigation that included searches of both Heberle's Edinboro home and his medical office, Southeast Medical Center, 1306 E. 38th St. State and federal drug agents seized files from more than a dozen of Heberle's patients in January and April.

"We allege that Dr. Heberle was providing powerful and addictive prescription medication to patients for no valid medical reason," said Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett, who was in Erie to announce the arrest.

Heberle was charged with Medicaid fraud because he allegedly wrote $163,548 worth of unnecessary prescriptions for 12 Medicaid patients, Corbett said.

Drug agents began investigating Heberle after one of his patients died Jan. 4 from an apparent overdose of the painkiller fentanyl. Heberle has said the patient ripped open a Duragesic patch --which contains a two- to three-day supply of medicine -- and ate its contents.

Erie County District Attorney Brad Foulk said several Erie pharmacists complained that Heberle was excessively prescribing OxyContin and other narcotic drugs to his patients.

"Dr. Heberle was known to provide medications in an improper way, sometimes without conducting a medical exam,"Foulk said.

One ex-patient told agents that Heberle would sign prescriptions in advance and have office staff or medical assistants give them to patients without the doctor seeing them -- an illegal practice, Corbett said.

Jaime Melvin, Heberle's office manager, said that's not exactly what happened. "When an ongoing patient needed a refill, we would see them, but we checked their vitals and screened them for drugs,"Melvin said Tuesday.

Heberle also worked as an emergency physician at Millcreek Community Hospital. MCH officials said Tuesday that his hospital privileges have been suspended.

Heberle's mother-in-law, Joyce Nelson, said Heberle was only trying to help patients with chronic pain. Many of his patients had been treated by David Klees, D.O., a family doctor convicted in 2002 of writing illegal prescriptions and now serving 10 to 20 years in prison.

"Paul pours his heart out helping people and believing that he is doing the right thing,"said Nelson, who also works in Heberle's office. "The Attorney General and Drug Enforcement Agency came to him and asked him to take on these chronic-pain patients after Dr. Klees was arrested. Now they arrest him, too."





Erie County Doctor Charged With Illegally Prescribing Drugs


May 2005 - Dr. Paul Heberle of Edinboro says he is not guilty and that he is being set up.

The State Attorney General disagrees. A.G. Tom Corbett says Heberle illegally prescribed powerful painkillers. Two of Heberle's former patients died of overdoses.

Aside from being charged with 15 counts of violating the state's drug law, Heberle is also charged with 13 counts of Medicaid fraud, for allegedly prescribing more than $163,000 worth of illegal drugs to medicaid patients.

Heberle was arrested at his home Tuesday morning. He operates South East Medical Center on East 38th Street in Erie.

Drugs he is accused of illegally prescribing include the Fentanyl patch, Fentanyl lozenge called Actiq, and Oxycontin.





Patients defend doctor, bemoan loss of drugs


March 2005 - Powerful painkillers helped Robert Holmes, 40, live a fairly active life despite nerve damage in his chest from a biopsy to diagnose his lung disease. Since state and federal narcotics agents raided his doctor’s office, Holmes can’t get his medication and can’t coach the baseball team on which his 11-year-old son, Bobby, plays.

When he takes his painkillers, Robert Holmes can coach his son's baseball team or mow his lawn.

But Holmes hasn't been able to get any OxyContin since state and federal narcotics agents raided his doctor's east Erie office.

"The pain is so intense, I have no quality of life," said Holmes, 40, who suffered nerve damage during a lung biopsy in 2002 and now tucks a pillow under his jacket to protect his ribs when he goes out in public.

"I'm either on the couch or the recliner," he added. "I have pain 24 hours a day."

Holmes was one of more than 20 chronic-pain patients who gathered Monday morning at the Siebenbuerger Club to defend their physician, Paul Heberle, D.O.

The patients are incensed that the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency are targeting Heberle, and worried that no other doctor will prescribe the drugs they said they need to function.

"I called 37 other doctors, and I can't get an appointment with any of them," said Holmes, who lives in Millcreek Township. "I'm sad for Dr. Heberle, and I'm mad because things shouldn't have to get like this."

Heberle, who declined comment Monday on the advice of his attorney, has not been charged with any crime. He has temporarily closed his practice.

Agents entered the South East Medical Center, 1306 E. 38th St., on April 11 and left with patient files. They are investigating Heberle's narcotic-prescribing patterns, according to the affidavit of probable cause they gave him.

The investigation began in January after one of Heberle's patients died from an apparent overdose of the painkiller fentanyl. Local pharmacists complained to the Attorney General's Office about Heberle's prescribing practices.

Heberle's patients spoke Monday at a news conference organized by the Pain Relief Network, a New York -based advocacy group that supports patients with chronic pain and the doctors who treat them. The group has set up a legal defense fund for Heberle.

"This is a battle for the hearts and minds of the public," said Siobhan Reynolds, president of the Pain Relief Network. "We want to shine some light on this matter now, not when the doctor gets to court and his fate is sealed."

Lisa Mello was willing to speak publicly about Heberle because he saved her life, she said.

Chronic pain in Mello's neck and elsewhere made her so miserable that she tried to kill herself in June.

She was admitted to Millcreek Community Hospital, where Heberle works as an emergency physician. He took over her care and prescribed narcotics to alleviate her constant pain.

"I wasn't totally out of pain, but I could function. I was more like my old self," said Mello, 36, who now works in Heberle's office.

When the office was raided and Heberle closed his practice, it was Mello who tried to comfort dozens of his patients.

"I knew what they were going through," Mello said. "I tried to make appointments for them with other doctors, but no one would take them. I knew that I wouldn't have much of a chance, either."

Many physicians are reluctant to prescribe narcotics except for short-term use, a Pennsylvania Medical Society official said.

"I don't know of any crackdown by the DEA, but I have heard of physicians who are reluctant to prescribe these drugs long-term," said Jeff Greenawalt, the society's director of public health and professional licensure.

Holmes and his wife, Dorothy, who suffers chronic pain from a bone disease, even went to a methadone clinic to get medication that would prevent withdrawal sickness.

They were rejected, Holmes said.

"So I have all this pain, and I'm going through withdrawal, too,"said Holmes, who requires an oxygen tank to breathe. "I'm supposed to get exercise to help with my lung disease, but I can't do anything because of the pain. What am I supposed to do?"






Dr. Heberle


An Erie doctor has decided to close his practice after being raided by the Drug Enforcement Agency.

The closing comes after months of investigations by the DEA and attorney generals` office.

Doctor Paul Heberle says his southeast Erie office was raided by DEA agents on Monday. Now he has closed his office.

Doctor Heberle is an internal medicine physician who started his practice a year and a half ago. He says he primarily treats people with chronic pain issues who have no where to go. Heberle says that he inherited most of his patients from Doctor David Klees who faced several charges, including involuntary manslaughter, after allegedly illegally prescribing painkillers

Dr. Heberle says he does not treat drug addicts. Heberle says the reason the DEA is investigating him is because a patient died from an overdose.

Eight DEA agents and members of the Attorney General's office raided his office and home, and took 12 patient files and billing records.

Doctor Heberle has since decided to shutdown his office.

In a letter to his patients, he says, "Everything in the DEA paperwork that I have been shown... both medical references and quotes from people is a complete distortion of reality."

Dr. Heberle goes on to say, "You need to see that your rights are being taken away from you. You deserve to be able to work on your medical problems with your doctor without being bullied by thugs with a badge."

Doctor Heberle says he does not have a lawyer and told us he may give up medicine all together. Doctor Heberle also works at Millcreek Community Hospital.







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