BOSTON – Federal prosecutors announced Thursday that they have filed a health care fraud charge against a doctor accused of faking research for a dozen years in published studies that suggested after-surgery benefits from painkillers including Vioxx and Celebrex.
Court documents indicate that Dr. Scott Reuben, an anesthesiologist, has agreed to plead guilty in exchange for prosecutors recommending a more lenient sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and forfeiture of assets worth at least $50,000 that Reuben received for the research.
Prosecutors allege the former chief of acute pain at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield sought and received research grants from pharmaceutical companies but never performed the studies. He fabricated patient data and submitted information to anesthesiology journals that unwittingly published it, court documents allege.
Reuben, a Longmeadow resident, took leave after the hospital said last year that a routine review found that some of his research was not approved by an internal hospital review board. Further investigation found 21 papers published in anesthesiology journals between 1996 and 2008 in which Reuben made up some or all data, the hospital said. Hospital officials said Reuben did not admit to the fabrications.
The hospital asked the journals to retract the studies, some of which reported favorable results from painkillers including Pfizer Inc.'s Bextra, Celebrex and Lyrica and Merck & Co. Inc.'s Vioxx. His studies also claimed Wyeth's antidepressant Effexor could be used as a painkiller.
Vioxx and Bextra — among a class of painkillers known as Cox-2 inhibitors — were pulled from the market amid mounting evidence they raised the risk of heart attack, stroke and death. Celebrex is still on the market. Lyrica is a treatment for fibromyalgia.
Reuben's attorney said last year that his client cooperated with the hospital review and expressed regret. The lawyer did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday on the federal complaint.
A telephone listing for Reuben could not be found.
Pfizer gave Reuben five research grants between 2002 and 2007. He also was a member of the company's speakers bureau, giving talks about Pfizer drugs to colleagues. The company has said it was not involved in the conduct of Reuben's studies or in the interpretation or publication of the results.
The investigation was first reported by the trade publication, Anesthesiology News.
The journal Anesthesia & Analgesia retracted 10 of Reuben's studies last February. The journal Anesthesiology said last year that it retracted three.