Saturday, July 22, 2006

Clinic Doctor Guilty of Forgery (Portland Press Herald, July 21, 2006)

Clinic Doctor Guilty of Forgery
Portland Press Herald, Friday, July 21, 2006

A federal jury on Thursday convicted addiction treatment specialist Dr. Mark Shinderman of forging prescriptions for patients at a Westbrook methadone clinic.

Shinderman, a well-known Illinois psychiatrist who is considered an expert in addiction medicine, faces prison time and fines for his convictions on 58 of the 68 charges against him.

He was found guilty in U.S. District Court of writing another doctor's name and federal registration number on 25 prescriptions for controlled substances. The prescriptions were written during 2001 and 2002, when Shinderman was seeing patients at CAP Quality Care, the for-profit methadone clinic owned by his wife, Noa.

Shinderman also was convicted of 24 counts of aiding and abetting the acquisition of controlled substances by deception, and two counts of falsifying records kept by a pharmacy. The jury split on 15 counts of making false statements on medical records, convicting him of seven and finding him not guilty on the rest.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Clark said the convictions showed the jury rejected the defense claim that Shinderman committed only minor offenses while providing legitimate medical services to his patients and causing no harm to them.

"The harm is to the system of regulation," Clark said. "Every step in the closed system of distribution requires a Drug Enforcement Administration number, and the people expect accountability."

Clark said the verdict upheld the principle that Shinderman's disregard for the law is serious.

"The people of Maine expect their doctors to follow the rules," he said.

Although it was not part of the charges against him, Shinderman's 30-year history as a provider of methadone to treat people addicted to opiates such as heroin was a recurrent theme among the witnesses in the trial.

Shinderman owns and operates two methadone clinics in Chicago, Ill. But he testified that since coming to Maine in 2001, he had been the subject of a "witch hunt" by federal authorities, who denied him a DEA registration number to write prescriptions here.

Shinderman was supported by many who treat drug addicts in the state. They said his clinic offered the best treatment, in part because Shinderman, who is a psychiatrist, offered free services that included prescribing anti-anxiety and other medications to help patients deal with their addictions.

Supporters rejected the government's claim that Shinderman wrote the prescriptions to attract patients, saying the drug-addiction epidemic meant Shinderman had more patients than he could handle.

Michael Cunniff, one of Shinderman's lawyers, said that controversy over methadone treatment - giving an opioid addict daily doses of another addictive drug to prevent cravings and withdrawal symptoms - was the backdrop of the prosecution against his client.

"It was evident throughout the trial that methadone was an issue," Cunniff said. "We made every effort to keep it out."

Shinderman, 64, a tall and dignified-looking man with a neatly trimmed gray beard, bowed his head in the courtroom as the clerk read the jury's verdict shortly before 6 p.m. after nearly 13 hours of deliberation.

As soon as the jury left the courtroom, he comforted his wife and about 30 friends and family members before walking outside. He is on bail while awaiting sentencing, which could be in about three months. He faces up to five years in prison on each of the most serious charges and a fine of up to $250,000 on each count.

"I'm clearly disappointed about the verdict, but I'm happy I had my day in court," he said to reporters. "I just want to say thank you."

The government contended that Shinderman wrote prescriptions for controlled substances that included benzodiazepine drugs, which are known as "benzos" and are popular with some methadone patients because they enhance the euphoric effect of the drug.

Shinderman was also known for his published opinion that for years, doctors had under-prescribed methadone to some patients, causing them to relapse into using street drugs.

Although the normal therapeutic dose of methadone is 80 to 100 milligrams a day and never exceeds 150 milligrams at the only other Greater Portland clinic, according to trial testimony, some CAP patients received much more.

Sharon Pratt, who came to the clinic when it opened after becoming addicted to pain medication she received during cancer treatment, ended up receiving 1,050 milligrams a day. She said Shinderman also prescribed other medications for her.

As a result of her high dose, she said she fell asleep while driving her car and then had a heart attack she attributes to the methadone. She filed a complaint with the state medical licensing board and has a pending civil case against Shinderman.

Pratt testified against Shinderman at his criminal trial and waited at the court all day Thursday for the verdict.

She said patients at CAP liked to see Shinderman because he would write prescriptions without arguing.

"This sounds weird, but I think he did it because he wanted to be popular," Pratt said. "I think he liked the attention he got, with everybody thinking he was awesome."

She said she was grateful for the verdict "on behalf of everyone who was victimized by this man."

Shinderman's methadone practice will be the focus of a pending civil case against CAP by the U.S. government. It is expected to go to trial early next year.

Staff Writer Gregory D. Kesich can be contacted at 791-6336 or at:

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