Published July 26, 2011
Two doctors at a Pittsburgh abortion clinic gave hundreds of prescription diet pills over several years to a staffer seeking to treat anxiety and depression, state authorities said Tuesday in charging the three and a former registered nurse not affiliated with the clinic.
Providing the drugs was illegal because the doctors did not have a clinical relationship with the staffer, Mark Wagner, 48, and therefore abused their Drug Enforcement Administration licenses to dispense prescription medications, Attorney General Linda Kelly said.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health oversees abortion clinics, but a spokeswoman there said the charges would not fall under the department's oversight, but rather with the Department of State, which licenses physicians and had no record of discipline against either doctor, according to its website.
Health department spokeswoman Christine Cronkright couldn't say whether the clinic whether under investigation for any of the criminal allegations revealed Tuesday, but referred The Associated Press to an inspection report last month that showed the clinic "failed to maintain a safe and sanitary environment." It was not immediately clear whether the clinic faces sanctions for those findings.
According to Tuesday's criminal charges, the former medical director of the Allegheny Women's Center, Dr. Alton Lawson, 72, of Pittsburgh, authorized an employee to order the pills known as Diethylpropion for Wagner.
Wagner, of Pittsburgh, used the pills to treat anxiety and depression, though they're most commonly used to treat obesity, according to the charges.
After Dr. John Barrett, 41, of Pittsburgh, took over as the clinic's director, he continued ordering prescriptions for Wagner for 1,200 tablets at a time, whenever Wagner told the doctor he needed the drugs, according to a criminal complaint.
In all, the doctors ordered more than 20,000 tablets over several years for Wagner, who "did not pay for the drugs and viewed them as compensation for working overtime and for regularly providing clinic supplies and office refreshments," according to a statement from Kelly.
Nobody at the clinic immediately returned a message seeking comment.
Wagner also sold as many as 600 pills at a time to a former registered nurse, Karen Kane, 63, ofIrwin, who is a friend of Wagner's, the investigation further revealed.
According to Kelly, Bartlett remains the medical director of the clinic and Lawson still works there part-time. Wagner is a lab technician at the clinic, Kelly said.
Online court records do not list attorneys for the suspects, who were arraigned Tuesday and face preliminary hearings Aug. 2.
A telephone number listed in Barrett's name was disconnected and nobody answered a phone listed for Lawson. A man who answered Wagner's home telephone said he was not Wagner, but that Wagner would not be commenting on the charges. Kane did not immediately return a message left on her home telephone answering machine.
Lawson and Barrett both renewed their medical licenses last year, which are valid through the end of 2012, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State. The department's website shows no disciplinary action against either doctor.
The department lists no discipline against Kane, though her nursing license expired in 2008.
The state health department has been criticized for its oversight of abortion clinics since a Philadelphia clinic was shut down after authorities said they found filthy and unsafe conditions last year and an trail of misconduct so gruesome that the operator was charged with eight counts of murder. The state House and Senate have since passed conflicting bills that each seek to more tightly regulate the clinics, and the health department has resumed regular inspections of the clinics.
According to the June 1 inspection of the Pittsburgh clinic, several sanitary violations were found, including a soda can in an examination room and expired endocervical specimen collection kits for a venereal disease.
The report also shows that only cold water was available at sinks in the clinic's procedure rooms, sterilization room, recovery area and patient restrooms. Five sterilized packages of curettes were not sealed, and no expiration dates were on the packages, the report said.
Barrett and Lawson are each charged with three counts of prohibited acts by a medical practitioner relating to the prescriptions. Wagner is charged with conspiracy, one count of delivery and one count of possession with intent to deliver the diet drug. Kane is charged with conspiracy, evidence tampering and possession of the diet drug. She and Wagner are also charged with prohibited acts under the state's controlled substance act.