Pubdate: Sat, 14 May 2005
Source: Fort Pierce Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2005 The E.W. Scripps Co.
Author: Derek Simmonsen, staff writer
Bookmark: (Oxycontin/Oxycodone)


FORT PIERCE -- Brenda Edwards recalls the first time she knew she was 
addicted to OxyContin.

"The shakes I felt when I didn't take the medication on time," she said. 
The shaking and sweats disappeared within a half hour of taking her pills 
and she began to realize she had a problem.

Edwards was the first of what prosecutors say will be several patients of 
former Port St. Lucie doctor Asuncion Luyao, 63, expected to testify during 
her trial on charges of manslaughter, racketeering and trafficking in 

Before testimony began Friday and away from the jury, prosecutors expressed 
concerns about a juror they claim is under investigation in connection with 
prescription fraud who could become "hostile" to their case as a result. 
Defense attorney Joel Hirschhorn accused them of trying to intimidate the 
juror through the media.

Senior Judge C.P. Trowbridge already ruled against a motion to exclude the 
juror for a different reason, and prosecutors stopped short of asking the 
juror be excused Friday. Assistant State Attorney Lev Evans said they plan 
to bring the issue up again later in the trial.

Edwards first went to Luyao for help with a bad back in 2000 and was 
prescribed OxyContin and Soma, a muscle relaxant. Initially, the medicine 
worked well, but months later she realized she was addicted and needed to 
get off the pills.

On the same day she first told Luyao she wanted to quit, the doctor 
refilled her OxyContin prescription, she said. After one attempt to quit, 
which led to her retaking OxyContin within a month, she finally told Luyao 
she wanted no more of the painkiller.

"I want off the train is what I think I said," Edwards said.

She eventually was given methadone to help deal with withdrawal, but didn't 
quit for good until the day of Luyao's arrest. Edwards dumped her pills 
into the toilet and hasn't used the drug since, she said.

During cross-examination, she admitted she found Luyao to be a caring, 
sensitive physician who told her she couldn't quit cold turkey, but would 
need to be weaned off the drug. Using OxyContin after quitting the first 
time was her own decision, not Luyao's, which came after she re-injured her 
back, she said.

Prosecutors began presenting their first medical evidence to support their 
claim of negligence on Luyao's part, and that testimony will pick up 
Monday. The six charges of manslaughter are linked to the deaths of Luyao 
patients and jurors heard evidence about three of the deaths Friday.

All three deaths were overdoses and some patients had four to seven times 
the maximum dosage of OxyContin and other drugs in their systems. During 
cross-examination, Dr. Charles Diggs said there was a possibility of 
suicide in one of the autopsies he conducted and if a case is uncertain, he 
will list "accidental" rather than suicide in deference to families.

Relatives of four of the six deceased patients testified Thursday and 
jurors heard evidence about the remaining two patients Friday.

The sister and nephew of Janice Byers, 40, of Vero Beach, talked about the 
final day of her life, in which they found her lying on the floor of her 
room with her face buried in a basket of clothes. Lying on the floor near 
her outstretched hand was a bottle of OxyContin prescribed by Luyao.

In cross-examination, family members said Byers had been addicted to drugs 
for about 20 years and was known to get "wasted" several times a week. Her 
nephew testified she was known to sell pills and buy them on the street and 
had used crack cocaine.

Gary Poltronieri talked about the death of his girlfriend Rona Kay, 35, of 
Pembroke Pines, who sought Luyao's help to kick an addiction to GHB, 
commonly referred to as the "date rape" drug because of its incapacitating 
effects. She was one of three deceased patients who went to Luyao for 
addiction treatment and was found dead in bed after laying down to rest.

Testimony will continue Monday and the trial is scheduled to last about 
three weeks.
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