Dr. Heberle - Photo: Rich Fosgren
The jury's verdict cleared Erie doctor Paul
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
"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
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,"
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
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
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
The couple does not know what the future holds for them.
But they want something for Paul Heberle's former patients, Christine Heberle
"We want to hold doctors accountable for not treating patients when they
should," she said.