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Death leads to lawsuit

LIHUE — A medical malpractice suit regarding a pain medication-related death was filed this week in 5th Circuit Court.

The suit charges Steve Rogoff, M.D., and Hale Lea Medicine with medical malpractice, wrongful death, medical negligence, and gross negligence in the death of Thomas O’Brien, 55, who was a patient of a Kauai physician who allegedly prescribed Schedule II narcotics to the point of intoxication and overdose.

The plaintiffs are John O’Brien, Jenny Valente, Evelyn O’Brien, and an unnamed son. They are represented by Honolulu attorneys Michael Green and William Shipley Jr.

O’Brien was a geologist, inventor, and an investor with an MBA. He became a patient of Rogoff’s on Jan. 25, 2011, after complaining of chronic back pain from a previously diagnosed lumbar disk problem.

“Thomas O’Brien ran a hedge fund but unfortunately he had a horrible addiction to pain medication,” Green said.

O’Brien sought to refill pain medication prescriptions he had obtained from another physician, but was looking for a new doctor. The complaint states the initial consultation did not include testing or confirmation of complaints but still resulted in a prescription for Norco, a Schedule II opioid narcotic.

Two days later, Rogoff prescribed Valium for O’Brien’s pain attacks, the complaint states, without subsequent examinations, medically indicated tests or objective findings.

An examination in February resulted in prescription refills with no indicative tests. The complaint states O’Brien returned to the clinic six days later claiming that people were stealing his medications and his request to try a trans-dermal patch for Fentanyl, another Schedule II opioid, resulted in a prescription.

The medical excuse was for a chronic bunion condition, the complaint states.

“The prescription pain medication continued even when it was suggested that O’Brien was an addict,” Green said. “Reports of lost pain medication, or ‘my dog ate it’ excuses are common indicators of an opioid addiction.”

O’Brien returned less than a week later saying he had wasted five patches trying to get them to adhere to his skin, the complain states. At this time Rogoff did note possible medication abuse for the short time duration and prescribed Norco.

A month later, O’Brien came to the clinic complaining of shingles and tooth pain. He received more Fentanyl after saying he was out of patches that fell off after two days.

In June 2011, O’Brien called Rogoff, saying he was on the Mainland and needed Norco to deal with tooth pain, after throwing out the previous prescription. Rogoff complied without attempting to refer him to a nearby physician to perform an examination, the complaint states.

Little more than a week later O’Brien called for a partial refill for the tooth problems. The prescription was filled over the phone on two occasions with Rogoff noting “get off narcotics” in O’Brien’s file.

Partial and full prescriptions followed in subsequent weeks through November 2011, with notes about helping to detox in the patient’s file. O’Brien was using excuses that he was going to Canada and then Florida and needed prescription before meeting with surgeons, the suit says.

The medical notes indicate an increasing rate of consumption of up to 500 or 600 doses per month. Rogoff ended his care of O’Brien at one point, only to start prescribing again a week later, according to the complaint, with seven more prescriptions through February 2012.

The final prescription was for Fentanyl patches and O’Brien was found dead of Fentanyl intoxication in Cook County, Illinois, on Feb. 16, 2012.

“They gave him the patches and it killed him,” Green said. “There were two patches on his body when he died.

An administrator at Hale Lea Medicine said by phone Thursday that O’Brien was Dr. Rogoff’s private patient and was not a patient of the clinic.

They said Rogoff’s schedule was full on Thursday afternoon and he didn’t return the call by press time.

  1. Calvin Winchell January 2, 2019 5:47 am Reply

    This case stinks of corruption and this Doctor Rogoff should of been charged criminally… the Judge in this matter Watanabe and the district attorney have obviously been compromised. The FBI needs to bring criminal charges here and investigate this Hale Lea clinic on their prescribing history and other deaths or emergency room overdoses associated with Dr. Rogoff and Company. The continued corrupt nature of Hawaii these days is deafening and something needs to be done!!!

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