Wisconsin Steps to Plate|in Veteran Overdose Case

     MADISON, Wis. (CN) – Accessing patient records will aid Wisconsin’s investigation into narcotics prescribed to veterans at deadly rates, the state told a federal judge.
     The Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services made the demand in a motion Wednesday for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to release the records of 16 patients treated by five medical professionals whose medical licenses are under investigation for excessive distribution of opiates and other controlled substances.
     “Their treatment of patients at the Tomah VA medical center is alleged to have fallen below the standard of care, causing patients significant harm and, in some cases, death,” the motion states.
     After a 35-year-old patient at Tomah VA died of an overdose in August 2014, the Center for Investigative Journalism reported in January that veterans found it so easy to obtain copious amounts of painkillers at Tomah that they nicknamed the facility “Candy Land” and called its chief of staff, Dr. David Houlihan, “Candy Man.”
     The center followed up in March by noting that its article prompted a preliminary review by the VA that found Tomah patients were 2.5 times more likely than the national average to receive high doses of opiates.
     It said the VA’s inspector general had actually documented the problems at Tomah back in March 2014 but kept those findings a secret from Congress and the public.
     In Wisconsin’s motion for medical-records access, it notes that it has already obtained written consent from all but 16 of the implicated patients.
     The remaining 16 are either dead with no known next of kin, or they belong to the “large and vulnerable population of patients” with substance-abuse issues and disabilities, Assistant Attorney General Chad Gendreau wrote.
     Because the records concern treatment of veterans at a VA hospital, the department needs judicial permission to review them absent patient waiver.
     “While disclosure of the records may minimally harm the 16 patients and their relationship with the five medical professionals, overall the disclosure will be beneficial to them,” the motion states. “Investigation will ensure that the patients will receive treatment from medical professionals who are adhering to the standard of care.”
     The VA does not oppose the release of the records, the state claims, but refuses to release them absent a court order.
     Michael Newman is listed as counsel for the VA. A representative for the Tomah VA was not immediately available to comment on the motion, and the state did not return a request for comment.
     The matter is assigned to U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker.

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