Dr. Eugene Gosy ignored obvious red flags warning him of his patients' abuse and addictions and six of them died as a result, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Gosy, a Clarence pain specialist, is accused in a new federal indictment of illegally prescribing pain medication that resulted in the six deaths, making him the first local doctor to be charged with such a crime.
Prosecutors said the victims, most of them from the area, ranged from young to old and included both newer and long-term patients.
"We need to stop the abuse of prescription drugs, and one way to do that is stop those doctors who prescribe these killer drugs outside the usual course of their medical practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose," Acting U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy said in announcing the new charges.
The 166-count indictment claims Gosy, when faced with warning signs of abuse or addiction in his patients, ignored those signs and instead prescribed more drugs.
The new charges also claim Gosy's practice, which includes nurse practitioners and physician assistants, issued more prescriptions for controlled substances than any other doctor or hospital in the state.
"Gosy did not work to heal all of those who struggled with pain," said Adam S. Cohen, special agent in charge of the FBI in Buffalo. "Rather, he betrayed his patients' trust by putting his own personal gain ahead of their health and well-being."
Prosecutors said family members of some of Gosy's patients went to him and asked for help in dealing with their family member's addiction and the doctor turned a blind eye.
"Dr. Gosy ignored several red flags," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Astorga.
Among the warning signs he missed, Astorga said, were patients displaying aberrant behavior often associated with addiction or patients seeking specific painkillers or early refills.
The indictment, the result of an investigation by the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration, also accuses Gosy of failing to use urine tests to monitor his patients' drug use.
Gosy's defense lawyer acknowledged the victims were his client's patients, but said their drug abuse cannot be blamed on the doctor who was trying to help them.
"He treated these patients for pain. He's a compassionate guy," defense attorney Joel L. Daniels said. "If they wanted to abuse their medication, you can't blame him."
Known across New York, Gosy had one of the largest pain medication practices in the state when he was arrested last year.
Gosy, according to Daniels, has treated tens of thousands of patients over the years and, yet, the percentage of deaths and fatal overdoses tied to his practice is well below the national average, he said.
He also thinks prosecutors will have trouble holding Gosy responsible for his patients' personal abuse of their medications.
"They can't link the deaths to the meds," Daniels said.
In a statement released after the indictment, Gosy said, "All medical care has risks, especially when a patient does not follow physician instructions. Every patient death is a tragedy."
The new criminal charges against Gosy are not the first time he has been implicated in a patient's death.
In two separate civil lawsuits over the past 10 years, he was sued in connection with patients who fatally overdosed.
In one of those cases, a jury cleared him of the patient's death but found him negligent for causing her pain and suffering. In the other suit, a jury found him not responsible for the death but questions remained about his use of methadone.
When asked if Gosy's patients had some level of personal responsibility for their addiction, Kennedy responded, "That's not right."
"It's time to stop blaming the victims," he said. "They're not the ones profiting from these drugs. In fact, they're the ones dying."
Prosecutors said most of the victims, who they declined to identify, came from Western New York, and indicated their backgrounds and personal histories differed greatly.
"They really do vary in age, from young to old," Assistant U.S. Attorney Maura K. O'Donnell said of the people who died.
Under the previous 114-count indictment, Gosy was charged with unlawful distribution of narcotics, health care fraud and conspiracy to commit health care fraud.
The new indictment replaces the earlier charges. Over a 10-year period ending last year, he is accused of prescribing fentanyl, oxycodone, morphine and other pain medications to patients who were abusing the drugs.
He also is charged with defrauding the state workers compensation system by submitting patient claims for office visits when he was actually outside the Buffalo area.
If convicted of all the charges against him, Gosy could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.