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June 12, 2013

Pain doctor’s trial gets under way

NEW CASTLE — An attorney defending a pain management doctor claims his client dispensed prescriptions within the parameters of the law.

A Pennsylvania attorney general’s deputy said she intends to prove that 61-year-old Dr. Van Edward Scott had prescribed powerful and highly addictive drugs to at least eight patients in Lawrence County and that he prescribed the drugs to three patients who were drug-dependent.

Attorney Martie Sheehan-Balchon, representing the state, faced the jury in the opening arguments of Scott’s trial Tuesday, contending he would drive back and forth to Detroit and hide money after $300,000 in his bank accounts had been safeguarded and frozen.

Scott and 11 others, most of whom were his patients, were arrested April 8, 2010. He is accused of having operated a pain management clinic in Neshannock Township where he allegedly dispensed 2.19 million prescriptions for controlled substances including oxycodone, fentanyl and methadone.

The charges against him — 21 counts of unlawful prescription of a controlled substance by a practitioner and seven counts of giving unlawful prescriptions to drug-dependent persons, were brought by the attorney general’s Butler office.

In April, the agency filed additional charges against Scott: one count each of knowledge that property is proceeds of illegal act, tampering with or fabricating physical evidence and obstruction of administrative law. Those are in relation to allegations he had liquidated four bank accounts that had been seized and frozen by the authorities in connection with the drug case.

Mentioning each of Scott’s patients by name, Sheehan-Balchon asked the jury to consider how the allegations “impacted these patients’ lives.”

“Van is a doctor in Detroit with no connection to Lawrence County,” she said. “That’s where the cars, the accounts and the stolen money were.”

Sheehan-Balchon added that Scott had come to New Castle in 2004 from Detroit to take over the practice of another doctor.

“Some patients will say they thought he was helping them,” she noted, explaining there would be no exam, no treatment for the real pain and “they would walk out of his office with handfuls of scripts each time.”

She added he would pack up his bags each weekend and go back to Michigan.

Scott is being defended in court for the drug charges by J.J. Sandlin, a Yakima, Wash., lawyer, and by Eric D. Levin of Butler for the charges regarding the money.

Sandlin told the jurors, “you will hear a bell ring in your mind and you can tell when the truth is being told.”

He suggested about 8 million Americans are under-treated for chronic pain and that one of the major causes of death from chronic pain is suicide.

Sandlin said he intends to call Dr. Frank Fisher, a northern California physician, to testify as an expert witness.

“He has a heart and you will hear that when you hear him speak.”

Sandlin suggested to the jury that while Scott’s patients are accused of selling his prescribed drugs on the streets, “the question is, does the physician know?”

“It’s the intention of the government to show that Dr. Scott didn’t follow a standard of care for his patients.”

Scott will be called to the witness stand during his trial to say how he prescribed pain drugs in good faith, Sandlin continued, “and he did it in the course of general treatment principles.”

Levin told the jury that the commonwealth must prove its case and that it’s not for the defense to prove it to them.

“They have to have evidence that the defendant committed a crime,” he said. “At this point, the evidence will show that Dr. Scott did not commit any of the crimes he is alleged” to have committed regarding the 24 accounts that were frozen from June through August 2009.

The trial, in the courtroom of Lawrence County President Judge Dominick Motto, is expected to last as long as a week and a half.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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