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July 18, 2013

Patient at loss for pain medication during probe

NEW CASTLE — A patient of a pain doctor whose office was raided said she has tried in vain to get her medication refilled.

But local pharmacies rejected her prescriptions and she resorted to visiting an emergency room to see a physician.

Last week, federal agents from Ohio conducted a search of the Allied Pain Treatment Center, which operates out of a suite of offices on Noble House Road in Neshannock Township. The offices are run by Dr. Thomas A. Ranieri, a pain specialist, who also has offices in Boardman and in Columbus in Ohio. Those offices also were raided.

No charges have been filed against Ranieri and his license has not been revoked.

The Neshannock facility has reopened, his office manager said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Donna Fitch of Mahoningtown said she is in dire need of her medication.

“I’m an outpatient of his and have been out of my oral medicine,” she explained. “I have a pain pump and no medicine running through it. Nobody in this town wants to help me.”

Fitch moved to New Castle a year ago from San Diego, where she had suffered a back injury at work in 2006 and underwent two operations.

“They didn’t work, and I had to find a pain specialist there who put a pain pump in me,” she said.

Her husband had lost his job in San Diego and they moved to New Castle because he has family here, she explained. Her doctor in San Diego referred her to Ranieri.

“There aren’t too many pain specialists in New Castle,” Fitch said. Ranieri has been filling her pain pumps once a month and prescribes her oral narcotic medications, she explained.

Without her prescriptions, she said, she’s in intense pain.

Fitch called the doctor’s office and was advised to try different pharmacies.

“I’ve tried every one in the phone book,” she said. “The pharmacists here said that because of what’s going on with Dr. Ranieri, they won’t fill them. They advised me to go to get another doctor.

“I’m in so much pain now I can’t even think,” Fitch said Wednesday by phone from Jameson Hospital’s emergency room.

“It’s not just me. There are hundreds of patients he has to see and we’re all going through this.”

“We’re back up and running,” Kristin Rummel, Ranieri’s office supervisor, said Wednesday.

“We will have a physician in the office three days next week,” she noted, adding it will be Ranieri.

“We never lost our license. It was never pulled.”

George Stefanis, owner of Hyde’s Drug in Mahoningtown, said he doesn’t have many customers who are Ranieri’s patients, but provided an explanation of why local pharmacists might be reluctant to fill prescriptions he has issued.

Since the agents raided Ranieri’s office, “we have not been approached by anyone who has prescriptions in their hands from him,” Stefanis said.

“That doesn’t usually happen because, in general, when patients get prescriptions for pain they usually get them filled right away.”

It is possible for them to have post-dated ones, he said, but he would hesitate to honor them because the physician is unavailable for consultation.

“That kind of breaks the chain between the physician, the pharmacist and the patient,” Stefanis explained.

Patients generally arrange to have their primary care physicians bridge them until they can find another pain doctor, he said.

“Common sense suggests that if (the doctor) is not available for consultation, then he hasn’t been writing prescriptions,” Stefanis said, stressing, “his availability for consultation is very critical.”

Stefanis pointed out the same situation arises if a doctor dies and his patients have unfilled prescriptions.

“I would err on the side of caution and wouldn’t feel comfortable filling a prescription unless I could reach the doctor for a consultation,” he commented.

If Ranieri resumes his practice and is available, then it would be up to the individual pharmacist whether to honor his prescriptions, Stefanis said.

“In my opinion, as long as he has not been charged and everything else is appropriate, I’d take each prescription on a case-by-case basis.”

James Ciotti of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation declined specific comment about the investigation, which is being handled primarily by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Several federal and local agencies in Ohio are involved in the probe, and federal search warrants served on the offices are under court seal.

Ciotti said Ranieri likely has numerous legitimate patients “and we’re trying not to interfere with their treatment. Everyone is very concerned about that.”

“If they have a true emergency I advise them to go to the emergency room.”

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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