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Troubles Linger for Acquitted Doctor Heberle
Wants License Back, but Says He Probably Can't Practice in Erie Again


Lisa Thompson; Erie Times-News; 2006-05-30. Posted: 2006-08-20; Modified: 2007-04-14.
Related resources:  
Klees Imprisoned, Heberle Exonerated, Pain Patients Abandoned -
WAR ON PAIN SUFFERERS - Special Collection #10
Drug War Journalism and Advocacy archives  ;  WAR ON PAIN SUFFERERS Special Collections (index page)
See also:
Trafficker or Healer? And Who's the Victim? -
John Tierney; New York Times, 2007-03-27
No Convictions - But Dr. Frank Fisher's Practice is in Ruins -
Eric Snider, Weekly Planet, 2004-06-21
The Trials of Dr. Frank Fisher: the Cost of Exoneration - WAR ON PAIN SUFFERERS #7, 2006
War on Doctors/Pain Crisis blog and RSS feed
Heberle Vindicated! - DeLuca; blog entry; 2007-04-14

   Dr. Heberle - Photo: Rich Fosgren
Dr. Heberle - headshot. Photo: Rich Fosgren. Erie Times-News.The jury's verdict cleared Erie doctor Paul Heberle's name.

His future still looks cloudy.

Paul Heberle and his wife survived the death of a child.

Christine Heberle made it through carbon monoxide poisoning.

Paul Heberle, a recovering cocaine addict, has been in and out of drug rehabilitation three times. "Plus a tune-up," he said.

But the couple said the most difficult thing they've faced was Paul Heberle's prosecution on charges he over-prescribed powerful narcotics to more than a dozen patients.

"At least with addiction you have to 'fess up to your behavior and what you've caused," he said.

Heberle, 40, does not believe he did anything wrong when it came to treating patients for pain.

A jury agreed and found Heberle was not guilty of 26 charges, including drug violations and Medicaid fraud, on May 22.

But that does not mean Heberle can pick up where he left off in May 2005 when he was arrested.

He doesn't have a medical license, for one thing.

Because of his history of addiction, Heberle is enrolled in two professional compliance programs that monitor his sobriety with random drug tests.

In August 2005, three months after he was arrested, the Pennsylvania Department of State's Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs suspended his medical license because it alleged he missed a drug test in March 2005. Heberle disputes the claim. He says he had a clean drug test one day before the supposed missed test and one day after.

Heberle said he plans to seek his license reinstatement "out of principle."

Heberle had worked at Millcreek Community Hospital for 11 years and was in the second year of private practice at Southeast Medical Center, 1306 E. 38th St., when he was arrested.

He does not think he could ever practice in Erie again because of publicity surrounding the case.

But even if he could practice again, he and his wife are not sure they would ever make enough to pay off their debt.

Heberle and his wife say they owe about $274,000 for their combined college loans, plus about $250,000 they borrowed from friends and family to defend Heberle from the charges.

"I don't know if I can even come out of this financially, even with a license," Heberle said.

The prosecution charged that Heberle prescribed high doses of narcotics without fully researching other alternatives. Its medical expert said Heberle repeatedly ignored red-flag warning signs that patients were addicted.

It said its probe was triggered by the January 2005 overdose of one his patients, Lisa Stallard.

Senior Deputy State Attorney General Doug Wright told jurors in his closing argument that Heberle showed a criminal and "blatant disregard for safety in the way he prescribed these drugs."

Afterward, Wright said such cases are difficult to prove because they typically pit experts against one another, and jurors have to try and discern what appropriate care is.

Heberle said he was offered plea bargains that would have allowed him to keep practicing medicine but required him to give up the right to prescribe pure narcotic drugs.

He said he felt he would be abandoning his patients if he did that.

He said he believes there is a difference between drug addicts and patients who need to be treated for severe pain.

Many of the patients at issue in Heberle's prosecution were former patients of David Klees, D.O., who was convicted of writing illegal prescriptions in 2002 and sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison.

Heberle said he was not in a position to just cut the patients off from their medications. He said the government refused to share what it knew of their medical backgrounds.

If a doctor makes the wrong call and forces someone who needs pain treatment into rehabilitation, it could be dangerous, he said.

Heberle and his wife are worried area pain patients are not getting proper treatment because doctors are afraid of getting prosecuted for writing prescriptions.

The couple does not know what the future holds for them.

But they want something for Paul Heberle's former patients, Christine Heberle said.

"We want to hold doctors accountable for not treating patients when they should," she said.



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Alexander DeLuca, M.D.

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Originally posted: 2006-08-20

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