INDIANAPOLIS – Dr. William Hedrick agreed to an emergency suspension of his medical license Thursday, giving him time to gather information to fight charges that he is using dangerous prescribing practices at his Fort Wayne pain center.
But the state licensure action isnt the only battle Hedrick currently faces: Multiple lawsuits have been filed against him by former colleagues, and since The Journal Gazette first reported Monday about the possible license suspension, several former patients have come forward alleging Hedrick got them addicted to controlled substances.
Hedrick is the founder and president of the Centers for Pain Relief, based in Fort Wayne but with more than a dozen other locations in northern Indiana.
His attorney, Stacy Cook, released a statement saying: While we deny the allegations, we take them very seriously. To reassure his patients and the communities he serves, we voluntarily agreed to a short and temporary suspension until next month to allow us time to present all the facts necessary to satisfy the Medical Licensing Board regarding his practice.
The statement also said Hedrick is committed to his patients and the continuity of their care.
He has already made arrangements for his patients to be treated by other qualified physicians in his practice, Cook said.
The Attorney Generals Office on Monday filed for an emergency suspension of his license, alleging Hedricks prescribing habits are not medically sound and pose substantial risk to the safety of his patients.
Numerous patients have died from multiple drug toxicity while in Hedricks care, according to the Attorney Generals Office.
The filing also said some of the specific concerns include the use of unsafe pharmacological mixes and unusually high pill counts frequently associated with diversion, or the illegal reselling of medication.
If the licensing board had ruled today on the emergency suspension, it could have been for up to 90 days. Instead, Hedrick agreed to a shorter suspension, until Jan. 24, at which point a full hearing will be conducted.
The Attorney Generals Office must file a formal licensing complaint by Dec. 21, which generally includes more evidence.
The board then has the authority to determine at the Jan. 24 hearing whether discipline is appropriate.
Huntington County Coroner Philip Zahm, who started a local task force to look into prescription drug deaths, said his group provided the state some information related to the Hedrick case but is letting the Attorney Generals Office handle the investigation.
So far this year, there have been 12 deaths in Huntington County attributed to prescription drug overdoses.
This is an excellent start to identify issues in our area and try to curb the deaths we have seen, Zahm said.
Since the allegations broke Monday, several former patients of Hedrick have contacted The Journal Gazette to discuss the care provided by Hedrick.
David Showalter of Pleasant Lake said he saw Hedrick for several months about six years ago at offices in both Angola and Fort Wayne. He has fibromyalgia and is on disability because of it.
It kept escalating to more and more Vicodin and it wasnt fixing the problem. I was like a druggie, the 61-year-old said. I just told him it had to stop.
Showalter says he became addicted and suffered through months of withdrawal afterward. He is stable now on non-narcotic medications.
Pamela James of Fort Wayne had a similar experience. She went to Hedrick for severe back pain for about a decade. Eventually she was taking multiple serious narcotics at the highest dosage, four times a day.
I was on so much medication I shouldnt be alive today, she said. My addiction got so bad that it wasnt enough and the pain was still bleeding through. I lived like a ghost.
James went to rehab to get clean and now lives in pain but without drugs.
I hope they stop this man, she said.
Hedrick declined to comment Thursday.
A statement on the Centers for Pain Relief Facebook page Tuesday called the case crazy.
It is just a bunch of disgruntled employees that were fired. They are trying to ambush our company. Everything is false. We will still function as a company and would be glad to help you with your pain management, it said.
The Facebook comment appears to refer to pending lawsuits between Hedrick and several former colleagues at the center. A number of former doctors and the former CEO at the Centers for Pain Relief sued Hedrick in Allen Superior Court.
The two separate lawsuits, filed one after another in mid-October, alleged that the doctors – Daniel Roth, Michael Cozzi, Hary Ailinani and Summit Pain Management – and the CEO, Matthew Cavacini, expressed concern about what they perceived as violations of state and federal laws, as well as incidents of medical malpractice.
In late November, the plaintiffs filed amended complaints that go into greater detail about the allegations: Signing blank narcotic prescriptions; billing fraud; prescribing narcotics to patients confirmed to be doctor shopping or who claimed their prescriptions were lost or stolen; prescribing narcotics to patients with addiction issues that may have led to their deaths; and attempting to influence records from a county coroners office to hide issues regarding a deceased patient, according to court documents.
The doctors and Cavacini sought a court order to release them from non-compete clauses they signed when they went to work for the Centers for Pain Relief. They argued they were forced to leave in order to protect themselves from liability – civil or criminal – and to protect their medical licenses.
They also sued for defamation, claiming Hedrick bad-mouthed them to patients after they left his clinics, as well as attempting to divert patients from a clinic where they now worked.
Hedrick and the Centers for Pain Relief filed a counter-claim, asking a judge for an injunction to prevent the doctors and Cavacini from operating their new pain management clinic.
A hearing on the injunction is set for early January before Allen Superior Court Judge Stanley Levine.
Rebecca S. Green of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.