Tuesday, April 28, 2009 | 2 a.m.
A Henderson physician who was linked by medical authorities to the deaths of eight patients after prescribing them narcotic painkillers has been sued by the families of three patients who died.
The lawsuits accuse Dr. Kevin Buckwalter of violating medical standards when he prescribed large doses of narcotic painkillers that contributed to their deaths.
Buckwalter was stripped of his license to prescribe controlled substances by the Nevada State Medical Examiners Board and the Drug Enforcement Administration after a Sun investigation linked his practice to multiple patient deaths. The oversight agencies linked Buckwalter to eight fatalities.
Buckwalter has stopped practicing medicine.
Maggie DeBaun, the mother of one of the victims, said she sued Buckwalter to bring public attention to prescription drug abuse.
“It’s not just a local or a personal problem, it’s an epidemic,” said DeBaun, whose 26-year-old daughter, Andrea Duncan, died after an August 2005 accidental overdose of drugs prescribed by Buckwalter.
The Sun wrote about complaints against Buckwalter after reporting that Nevadans consume greater quantities of prescription narcotics per capita than residents of almost every other state — and the use has skyrocketed in the past decade. Experts say a primary part of the problem is doctors who are careless with their prescriptions, or who prescribe the drugs as a way to make money.
The allegations in the three lawsuits, filed Friday in District Court, mirror those published in the Sun, which reported in October on Buckwalter’s treatment of the same three patients.
Buckwalter’s brother, Bryce Buckwalter, who also serves as his attorney, said in an e-mail: “Dr. Buckwalter truly cares about each and every one of patients, and as such, he is greatly saddened by the passing of these three individuals. However, Dr. Buckwalter is now being forced to defend himself, of which, he looks forward to having his day in court.”
Duncan had come to Buckwalter in November 2004, with back and head injuries suffered in a car accident four years before. Over the next nine months Buckwalter prescribed her 2,130 tablets of oxycodone, the primary narcotic in the drug OxyContin, plus 1,200 pills of hydrocodone, the main ingredient in the drugs Vicodin and Lortab, the lawsuit said. In addition, she was prescribed more than 3,500 Xanax pills.
Buckwalter gave a deposition on Duncan’s behalf in a lawsuit related to the car accident that caused her injuries. Under oath, he said he did not examine Duncan before prescribing her drugs, did not monitor the effects of the medication and did not tailor his treatment to the patient.
Dr. Andrea Trescot, a pain management specialist and professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle who is serving as the plaintiffs’ expert in all three cases, said Buckwalter’s treatment of Duncan violated established standards of care. If Buckwalter had cared for her properly, “there is reasonable medical probability Andrea Duncan would not have died,” Trescot wrote in her court declaration.
In a separate lawsuit, the family of Barbara Baile accuses Buckwalter of failing to address her constipation — a common side effect of narcotics — which led to her bowels being ruptured, causing the toxic infection of her body and death by sepsis. Baile, 69, died in April after being prescribed narcotics by Buckwalter for about four years. Her husband, Don Baile, said that his wife frequently complained to the doctor about abdominal pain and constipation, but that Buckwalter did not address the problem.
Trescot, who reviewed Baile’s records, found that Buckwalter failed to monitor the effects of the drugs, kept inadequate records of the medications prescribed and did not assess the abdominal pain — acts and omissions that were “substantial contributing” factors to her death.
The third lawsuit was filed by the family of Staci Voyda, 19, who according to her journal saw Buckwalter in February 2007 for help with her OxyContin addiction. He put her on large doses of the anti-anxiety medication Xanax and methadone, a narcotic that can be used to help addicts withdrawing from other narcotics. The prescriptions continued until Voyda survived an accidental overdose of methadone on June 8, 2007.
Less than two weeks later, Buckwalter prescribed Voyda 100 doses of hydrocodone, which is highly addictive and frequently abused.
In the ensuing weeks, Voyda’s family and friends said, she became totally withdrawn. Meanwhile, Buckwalter was prescribing her increasing doses of narcotic painkillers — including oxycodone, her narcotic of choice, starting July 29, 2007.
In a span of 11 days Buckwalter prescribed Voyda 310 oxycodone pills. On August 26 she killed herself.
The plaintiffs are represented by Kay Van Wey, a Dallas attorney who has filed complaints against doctors in other “pill mill” cases.
Van Wey said she is reviewing the cases of several other Buckwalter patients and that more lawsuits may be filed. The lawsuits seek unspecified damages.