Pubdate: Fri, 09 Jan 2004
Source: Erie Times-News (PA)
Copyright: 2004 Erie Times-News
Author: Ed Palattella
Bookmark: (Oxycontin/Oxycodone)


Authorities Say Illegal Prescription Contributed To Patient's Overdose

Dr. David A. Klees, arrested on a count of involuntary manslaughter and 12 
other charges. (FILE PHOTO/Erie Times-News)

The region's problem with the abuse of painkillers reached another level 
with the arrest of an Erie physician on a count of involuntary manslaughter 
and 12 other charges.

Investigators relied on tips from pharmacists about suspect prescriptions 
for OxyContin to help make their case against David A. Klees, D.O.

Erie police and state drug agents on Thursday arrested Klees, 46, charging 
that his recklessness or negligence in writing an illegal prescription 
helped caused the death of 40-year-old Erie resident Sherry Lee Ziroli. She 
died May 17 of an accidental overdose of painkillers other than OxyContin.

Police also allege that Klees wrote illegal prescriptions, including those 
for the highly addictive OxyContin, to 11 other patients. Some of them had 
to enter drug detoxification programs once they left Klees' care, according 
to arrest records.

A tip from a pharmacist at an Erie Rite Aid store helped launch the 

A prescription that Klees signed alarmed pharmacist George Milevich. He 
telephoned a drug agent with the state Attorney General's Office on April 
16 and said he was refusing to fill the prescription.

Milevich told the agent "he was not filling the prescription because if the 
patient took all of the medication, he would probably die," according to 
arrest records.

Milevich has since left the area and could not be reached for comment.

Other area pharmacists also assisted investigators, said Senior Deputy 
Attorney General Douglas Wright, one of the prosecutors assigned the case. 
He credited the pharmacists for also refusing to fill prescriptions from Klees.

"There are an awful lot of people out there who gave us information," 
Wright said.

Klees' arrest comes at a time when police in northwestern Pennsylvania are 
dealing with an increase in crimes related to OxyContin. Many of the cases 
have included suspects accused of stealing the drug from pharmacies.

The Klees case is believed to be the first of its kind in Erie County 
involving a physician, though the state Attorney General's Office is 
pursuing similar cases throughout Pennsylvania.

"This is not an isolated incident. It is part of a very dangerous trend," 
Acting Attorney General Jerry Pappert said at a news conference in Erie to 
announce Klees' arrest.

Why OxyContin can be dangerous: OxyContin, a narcotic painkiller, is 
prescribed for moderate to severe pain when continuous, around-the-clock 
relief is needed for an extended period of time. (CHRIS SIGMUND/Erie 


The state Attorney General's Office and the Erie police worked together to 
present the case to a statewide grand jury, which issued a presentment to 
arrest Klees. The Attorney General's Office will prosecute the case with 
the Erie County District Attorney's Office.

Investigators are unsure what led Klees to write the prescriptions that led 
to the charges.

Investigators are alleging that Klees prescribed painkillers to patients 
without first ordering tests or suggesting alternatives to painkillers, and 
that Klees continued to prescribe painkillers even when he knew the 
patients were already addicted to the drugs, according to arrest records.

Klees had sexual relations with at least one of the 11 patients who were 
connected to the cases outside of the Ziroli investigation, according to 
the arrest records. But Pappert said investigators found no evidence that 
Klees received large-scale financial benefits from what the police believe 
are the illegal prescriptions. Investigators also have no evidence that 
Klees was using the drugs himself, Wright said.

Court records show Klees had several claims against him for delinquent 
taxes. Financial woes led to his eviction from his office at 217 W. 11th 
St. in 2003, Wright said.

Klees, a family practitioner who had been affiliated with the now-bankrupt 
MetroHealth Medical/Osteopathic Hospital, vacated his office Sept 30.

Klees still has his license to practice medicine. Wright said investigators 
believe Klees recently had been writing prescriptions from Klees' apartment 
in the 400 block of West 10th Street.

Wright said investigators planned to notify state licensing officials of 
Klees' arrest.

"It is a very interesting case, quirky," Wright said. "It is really curious."

Klees spoke to investigators, but provided limited information, District 
Attorney Brad Foulk said.

"They were self-serving statements," he said.

Klees was arraigned Thursday and jailed on $50,000 full cash bond. His 
preliminary hearing is set for Jan. 16 before Erie 3rd Ward District 
Justice John Vendetti. Klees had no lawyer at his arraignment.

Prosecutors need no motive to take their case against Klees to trial. The 
involuntary-manslaughter count, a misdemeanor, alleges that Klees acted 
recklessly or negligently by prescribing the drugs that caused the death of 
Ziroli, who had been addicted to painkillers for 14 years when she died, 
according to arrest records. The count contains no allegations that Klees 
meant to kill Ziroli.

Police said Klees wrote the prescriptions for Ziroli. The Erie County 
Coroner's Office ruled that a toxic level of the painkiller Hydrocodone and 
a lethal level of the painkiller Fentanyl were found in Ziroli's 
bloodstream when she died.

Klees would face a maximum sentence of five years and a $10,000 fine if 
convicted of the involuntary-manslaughter count. Klees would face 15 more 
years in a state prison and an additional $250,000 fine for each of the 12 
felony counts that he wrote illegal prescriptions, if convicted.

One of those counts applies to Ziroli's death. The others apply to 10 of 
Klees' other patients, including Erie resident Yvonne Green, who the 
coroner said died of a combination of drug toxicity, bronchitis and 
pneumonia on Oct. 21, 2001.

The statute of limitations is two years for involuntary manslaughter, so 
prosecutors could not file that charge against Klees in Green's death, 
Wright said.

He said the prosecutors are awaiting the outcome of an appellate court case 
that could allow them to file third-degree murder charges against Klees in 
the deaths of both Ziroli and Green. Third-degree murder has no statute of 

At the time of Sherry Ziroli's death, investigators found a number of pill 
bottles at her residences, all containing drugs that Klees had prescribed, 
according to arrest records. Ziroli's husband, Dan Ziroli, told 
investigators that he and his wife had been married for 14 years, "and that 
she had an addiction to prescription pain medication for the entire time of 
their marriage," according to the records. "He also stated that he believed 
her death to be the consequence of an accidental dose of pain medication."

Dan Ziroli could not be reached for comment.
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