BANGOR, Maine — A nine-member jury took a little less than two hours to return a 9-0 verdict against a Jonesport doctor for overprescribing methadone and awarded a Corinth woman $1,912,934 in damages.

“Any case with a verdict like that is beneficial because it will make doctors more careful, patients safer, and benefit the community overall in safe prescribing,” said Whalen’s attorney, Matt Morrison of Waco, Texas. “Hopefully the community will be safer now than it was before.”

Charlene Whalen, 59, sued Dr. Steven Weisberger for medical malpractice three years ago, alleging that the dosage of the methadone prescription he gave her for pain was too high, causing her to stop breathing in her sleep one night and suffer brain damage resulting from oxygen deprivation.

Morrison — who represented Whalen on a contingency basis, paying for all the costs associated with the case and taking a percentage of a hoped-for judgment — said the unanimous jury verdict didn’t surprise him.

“I guess I would say I’m not surprised because it was the right decision and juries generally get it right in my experience,” said Morrison, who is now three-for-three in methadone cases he has taken to trial over the last four years. “There were a lot of complex issues in this case that took awhile to get everyone’s head around, but once they understood it, it was pretty clear that there was a breach in the standard of care.”

Neither Weisberger or his attorney, Christopher Nyhan of Portland, were available for comment after the verdict announcement. It’s unclear if they plan to appeal the verdict.

“A lot of the defense’s case involved an us-versus-them mentality, which I frankly didn’t understand,” said Morrison, referring to his status as a Texas resident and a couple of expert witnesses he called who were from Connecticut. “I don’t think it resonated with the jury.”

Nyhan contended that Whalen never mentioned to her pharmacist at the time she filled the prescription that she already had breathing problems and suffered from sleep apnea before coming to Weisberger. He also maintained that Whalen never intended to return to work and therefore wasn’t entitled to compensation for future lost income.

Whalen was referred to Dr. Weisberger, a family practice specialist at Arnold Memorial Medical Center in Jonesport, for treatment of chronic back pain by Dr. Gary Ross, her primary care physician, in August 2006.

Whalen was given Prolotherapy treatment, which involved injections into an area around her spine that intentionally caused inflammation designed to promote healing. The back pain caused her to take a leave of absence from her job at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, where she worked for 18 years, in 2006.

Morrison and Whalen maintained that the dosage initially prescribed by Weisberger, which jurors were told was eight times the amount recommended by experts in the field, caused her to stop breathing around midnight 2½ days after taking her initial methadone prescription.

Nyhan countered that the FDA said Weisberger’s 40-mg dosage was within “an appropriate range” and that neither the pharmacist — who called to verify the prescription — nor the pharmacy’s computer system — designed to alert pharmacists to any possible side effects or problems — detected any potential complications.

Whalen’s fiance, Bob Ring of Corinth, woke her during the episode but she had 20 to 30 minutes of slow, shallow breathing which caused brain damage that affected her ability to multitask and perform relatively simple jobs and tasks, according to Morrison.

“A 40-milligram dose doubles to 80 milligrams on average within four to five days, so if you don’t understand that process, it’s easy to overdose a patient,” Morrison said. “Some either don’t understand that or ignore it.”

Nyhan noted that neither Whalen’s son nor her daughter — who see or talk to her daily — detected any noticeable changes in her demeanor, appearance or behavior in the days leading up to the night she stopped breathing.

Morrison, who gave credit to Bangor lawyer Brett Baber and Andrew Tuegel from his own firm for their assistance, agreed to represent Whalen after she contacted him through a referral she received from the founder of an online support group who happened to be one of Morrison’s clients.

“I’ve been litigating methadone cases for four years from Cali to Maine, and most of them have involved deaths,” Morrison said. “This is actually the only case I’ve taken where the client survived an assault on their body from methadone.”

82 replies on “Jury awards Corinth woman $1.9M in methadone malpractice suit”

  1. So methadone is legal and we get this and the guy puking up his pill to sell to another junkie.  But marijuana, which helps chemo patients keep food down,  those suffering with glaucoma, and those afflicted with Crohn’s disease, is not legal.

      1. Last time I knew the Federal Governement over ruled the state, leaving alot of gray area. Not all that legal in Maine.  One has to have the money to go to a “special doctor” not all doctors will write a script for marijuana even if they have terminal cancer. That appointment is usually $300 out of pocket to get your script. Then you have to find a means of purchasing your marijuana. Being homebound and sick its not easy. A friend of mine has MS and he has a very difficult time getting his medical marijuana. He has the script on his wall, but getting his hands on his medication just isn’t available. My point is after seeing Cancer patients suffer and MS just to name friends ill; I’d rather see marijuana clinics then meth clinics. We need marijuana clinics for the large number of cancer victims alone, not to mention all the other ailments it can help with. I don’t smoke it, but I have seen someone with MS, stop symptoms in minutes after smoking. That is amazing to me.

        1. I would like to see people that have a marijuana Rx grow their own!!!! Therefore the profits are taken away………………….otherwise only a chosen few make the profits. Confort shouldn’t have a price attached to it.

          1.  Certified medical marijuana patients can grow their own. Problem is that they are on a registry and armed nasties have been known to come into their homes to rip off the marijuana.

            Especially for a family man/woman this is not a safe option and won’t be until the stuff is legal for everyone so there’s no value in stealing it.

    1. Marijuana makes me want to drink cold beer, lot’s of it. Therin lies the problem for me ! You might say it’s an allergic reaction.

    2.  Actually, the grossest part of the recent incident involving the methadone clinic in Bangor, was that the guy didn’t puke up a pill. It was liquid methadone. Meaning, whoever he sold that to was willing to swallow another person’s vomit to get high…

  2. Why would a doctor prescribe methadone to someone if they are not hooked on opiates? It has been said that methadone is hard to kick the habit of. Why not prescribe a drug that is more in line with normal treatment options for her condition. sounds fishy to me.

    1. Methadone is used to relieve moderate to severe pain that has not been
      relieved by non-narcotic pain relievers. It also is used to prevent
      withdrawal symptoms in patients who were addicted to opiate drugs and
      are enrolled in treatment programs in order to stop taking or continue
      not taking the drugs. Methadone is in a class of medications called
      opiate (narcotic) analgesics. Methadone works to treat pain by changing
      the way the brain and nervous system respond to pain. It also works as a
      substitute for opiate drugs of abuse by producing similar effects and
      preventing withdrawal symptoms in people who have stopped using these
      drugs. (www.nlm.nih.gov)When people hear methadone, they automatically think drug users.  As you will see above, methadone is also used to treat pain that is not relieved by usual pain medications.  Just wondering, did they count the number of pills when they found her?  Did she take too many?  Just a thought!

      1. yes there was a pill count done – this and all questions like this would be answered if people actually took the time to sit on the trial that was public and heard all the facts instead of jumping to conclusions and making up things they know nothing about.

      2. yes there was a pill count done – this and all questions like this would be answered if people actually took the time to sit on the trial that was public and heard all the facts instead of jumping to conclusions and making up things they know nothing about.

  3. She probably was on opiates before methadone and they weren’t sufficient, or were causing too many unwanted side effects (constipation, drowsiness). Methadone isn’t just used to keep people off heroine. It’s also used for chronic pain. The dose, 40 mg of methadone is not 8x the recommended starting dose- the usual starting dose of methadone is 2.5 – 5 mg three times daily. Doses are then slowly titrated to effect. It is a little high for an opiate-naive person, but may be appropriate depending on the patient’s prior exposure to narcotics, which is not even discussed in this poorly written article.

    It sounds like she was already disabled before starting this pain treatment. Now she’s disabled and has $1.9 million. It’s unfortunate because lawsuits like these cause many pain specialists to UNDERtreat chronic pain in their patients; they are afraid of lawsuits and there are always sharks waiting in the water. I question whether her apnea was a pre-existing medical condition, and whether there’s any definitive proof of new brain damage following this incident, or whether she combined methadone with any other drugs (alcohol, muscle relaxers, other pain killers, etc).

    1. She won’t get $1.9 million. About 33 percent will go to the attorney. Then there will be legal fees and other expenses deducted (expert witnesses, depositions, etc.).

      If the defense seeks to appeal, there may be a settlement for a lot less than the $1.9 million.

    2. “The dose, 40 mg of methadone is not 8x the recommended starting dose- the usual starting dose of methadone is 2.5 – 5 mg three times daily. ”
      Look, 40 dived by 8 is 5, so yeah, 40mg IS 8 times the recommended starting dose.

      And in a opoid treatment naive person, THAT dose is 16 times what most responsible doctors would have started someone out on.

      You seem to be confusing a dose with the total amount taken in a day.  A dose is a dose, 3 times a day means every 8 hours.  A dose is not the total amount in a day, it’s a dose.  Seriously, what is so difficult about THAT to understand ?

      The rest of your equally baseless conjectures could be rectified by simply reading the trial transcripts; but hey, why bother with the facts when you have baseless assumptions, misinformation, and an obvious political agenda.

      PS, PLEASE don’t give out any medical advice to anybody you know, you could very well get them killed with your woeful ignorance.

      1.  So this woman was given 40mg at a time to be taken several times a day? If that’s true this doctor deserves to be sued. I find it hard to believe though. If that was the case I would think she would have died much sooner and if she didn’t she would have been completely non-fuctional. The article said that the woman’s son and daughter didn’t notice any change in her in the days leading up to the shallow breathing event. Had she been given 40mg 3 times a day – 120mg/day! – she wouldn’t have been able to stand and that she was over medicated would have been very noticeable. People taking methadone for addiction often take doses in excess of 120mg/day but it takes them weeks of increasing slowly to get to that dose. Even a heavy duty oxycontin addict would have been completely out of it taking 120mg/day off the bat, probably even dead.

        The fact that the 40mg is talked about as a “dose” doesn’t at all mean that it’s a singular dose taken all at ones. I would find it much more likely that it was a daily dose. Even if it was it would be higher than a normal starting dose but not 8 times higher.

        So where can you find the court transcripts that will say that this was not a daily dose?

        1. They are available through the court house. And the reason the jury was unanimous is because that is exactly what the doctor did… over prescribe

      2. Your full of it.   30mg is the average starting dose.   She was prescribed 40mg for the full day since methadone has a half life of 36 hours.  It’s only ever taken once per day or the dose
        broken up into  morning and night.   That is not a high dose for pain at all.  I know an 82 year old women who takes 30mgs and has since she started on it.  It works well for her and you won’t even know she’s taken it except that she’s not in pain all the time now.  This was an opportunist taking advantage of a great Doctor whom I know personally.  He has never been a heavy prescriber and only gives the minimum it takes to correct a problem with any drug. I hate to see this happen to a man who cares about his patients like Dr Weisberger.

        1. The usual oral adult dose for pain is 2.5 to 10 mg every 3 to 12 hours.  That is a fact.  You can look it up in the PDR, or you can have an opinion based on pure fiction, that’s up to you.

        2. She was prescribed 40mg per dose, not per day! I have read it myself being related I did have access to that information first hand.

    3. I would just like you to know that I know her personally and she was a well functioning person , with a great job before all of this and is now  is in a debilitating state because she can’t remember things, can’t go anywhere with out the help of others, so before you go running off at the mouth about someone you know nothing about. Think first!!

      1.  yes, I know her also and she is a wonderful person. no amount of money makes up for poor health.

  4. This is incredibly ridiculous … I’d ask what this jury was thinking, but it is obvious they were NOT!

    1. What they were thinking is this could have been my mother, grandmother, sister, aunt… etc. I would not want to go through what she has… please explain what you think is ridiculous about a woman becoming disabled due to the ignorance of a pill pushing doctor that undoubtedly gets kick backs from the pharmaceutical companies…

  5. There
    were 5500 methadone related deaths in 2007.Methadone is a synthetic opiate that
    is used to treat pain and addiction for heroin and other opiates. When
    methadone is used for pain, doctors write the patient a prescription for
    various amounts. When methadone is used for
    addiction patient must go to a clinic to receive dose of methadone until they
    earn take home privileges. Many patients being treated for addiction will
    remain on medication for life. Methadone is addicting and withdrawals are
    severe. Methadone represented less than 5% of prescribed opiates but was
    attributed to 1/3 of all opiate related deaths. A dose that is therapeutic for
    one person may be lethal to another person. Methadone’s’ unique properties make
    it unforgiving and sometimes lethal. 
    For
    more information, please visit http://www.stopmethadonedeaths.com. Please sign
    petition and join the forum

  6. To tell you the truth you don’t look like the sharpest knife in the drawer right now. You shouldn’t throw stones when you’re sitting in a glass house. Do you understand what that means?

  7.  “Any case with a verdict like that is beneficial because it will make
    doctors more careful, patients safer, and benefit the community overall
    in safe prescribing,” said Whalen’s attorney, Matt Morrison of Waco,
    Texas.

    And I get a fee of $631,268.22.  That’s about 15 years pay for the average working Mainer.

    1. That money won’t all go to the attorney. His employees have to be paid. The focus group that his law fimrm hired to hear the case first had to be paid. The materials for the focus group had to be paid for. Think of all of the research that had to be done as well.

      1. Apparently it means that entitled should have gone to law school so that his/her salary is better… after all with a name like entitled4life they think someone owes them something.

  8. Congratulations to Whalen and Morrison on this award. These doctors have to held accountable when they are negligent with their patients. Methadone is a highly addictive dangerous drug that now kills more than traffic accidents, heroin and cocaine overdoses.The death toll has reached an epidemic all across the United States with thousands dying every year. Please visit http://www.stopmethadonedeaths.com as we bring about awareness helping educate the public on the deaths of innocent victims. Sign the petition, join the forum, share your story you may save a life. 

  9. And also, if you are referring to Whalen and Ring, they don’t have any children together and didn’t raise any together… so don’t just start saying things without facts.

    1.  That would have been easily provable by the amount left in the prescription bottle, so I doubt it was the case.

  10. On April 5 , 2006 our 33 y/o daughter died from Methadone one 10 mg pill can kill . A negligent doctor prescribed her Methadone as pain medication . We know from her Autopsy and Toxicology Reports she died after taking her first dose in 8 hours she had no tolerance to such a strong opiate. Methadone is highly addictive and a dangerous and all to often leads to death. Please visit http://www.stopmethadonedeaths.com and sign the petition join our forum share your story. You may help save a life.

    1. I read your post about 8 hours ago,  and wanted to write something,  but didn’t know what.  Now I just want to give you a hug….

    2. thank you for this post – we are VERY lucky to have our mother still with us today and thank God for that everyday, I am so sorry for your loss and sorry how you had to find out abotu the deadly affects of methadone! Big Hugs to you!

      1. Congratulations on your mother winning this law suit I know it has not been easy on your family. I admire your Mothers courage  for this battle she has endured. These Doctors, Pharm Co’s and Clinics have to be held accountable for their negligence on treating their patients with Methadone. Pure Greed has lined their pockets b/c Methadone is such a cheaper alternative while knowing how dangerous it is.You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.  Please visit http://www.stopmethadonedeaths.com sign the petiton and share your story as we bring awareness to the public in hopes of saving lives.

    3. I am so sorry for your loss and wish that your outcome was better than that. Be an advocate and spread the word about this awful drug that the pill pushing doctors are prescribing. Giant bear hugs to you and your family

      1. Thank you so much for your kindness it is greatly appreciated. And  I will be an advocate in honor of our loved ones. A voice for them as we stand together against those that continue to cause harm toward innocent victims. These untimely deaths and negligent injuries have to be stopped. Please visit http://www.stopmethadonedeaths.com sign the petition, share your concerns as we work together educating the public. Everybody needs a hug thank you.

    1.  Methadone is very commonly used for pain It was a pain medication long before it was ever used to treat addiction. It’s actually a very good medication for a lot of people, especially when other pain medications have failed to work. It’s very useful because unlike other opiates one doesn’t develop a tolerance to the analgesic effects quickly so it works well for treating chronic pain. It is a tricky drug though because of its long half life so any doctor using it has to be knowledgeable about how it works and the problem is that too many don’t know how it works. It’s not a matter of a bad drug. It’s a matter of uneducated doctors and patients.

      1.  Unfortunately we have to rely on our docs for medical advise which isn’t always good. I am fortunate to be healthy. I stay away from doctors as much as possible.

  11. Pot would have worked on Pain, yet illegal. How many pot related deaths are there in the usa per year… Methadone cause many deaths per year yet is legal.. I guess the additive drug methadone has better lobbyist… 

    1. A better lobbyist and methodone more cost effective because when it kills it is less money to medical facilities more money in the coffers for HMO, insurance and Medicare/Mainecare. So they figured it out cheaper to bury them rather than buy them drugs for a long life so they buy the short life. Be careful what you all put in your mouth.

  12. I think this is stupid where was common sense if something doesnt feel right to you stop using it. this is why medical care is so costly now the price of medical care has to go up which really means we are paying the millions not the doctor or the insurance company. what ever happened to good old common sense. if you dont feel right taking it she should have stopped and told her doctor she wants something different. no instead they took another one. 

    1. Exactly! She took it for 2 1/2 days and didn’t have a problem by her own childrens testimony. If it was going to be a problem it would have been the very first day. You wonder why health care is so expensive in this country. The malpractice insurence that Doctor’s have to carry drives up the cost of everything. Bogus.

      1. I am her daughter and we did not testify to that fact, that’s what the defense said in closing arguments when in fact we all testified to the contrary, I suggest if u want to know what was truly said by us all u get the transcripts and read them and then hey see your mother go through what we have seen ours go through and then we will talk!

        1. Every one in here think they are experts on any subject when in fact all they do is ready the head lines an thats it

          1. I am as a matter of fact a member of the family and I have seen first hand what has happened. It isn’t about the money… because even though it says she was awarded that amount she isn’t getting that amount. What it is about is more making people aware of what pill pushing doctors are doing to society…. She has lost so much and she now just wants to live what life she can with the brain injury she has incurred because of this drug and the doctor that put her on it.

      2. None of her children testified to this… as a matter if fact they said that she wasn’t right, that she was not lucid but figured it was the effects of the drug and it would wear off after sleeping. This family is NOT a drug taking family… not even experimental as teenagers. So again, if never having been in the situation… DON’T JUDGE! If you want to know why insurance premiums are so high do some research, there are more reasons than malpractice… they are based more in risk factors. For example, someone that is a pro athlete will pay more that someone that is say 25, non smoking and normal everyday average job. And for those that are unaware, there are laws that provided repayment to the insurance companies for payments made when law suit is brought and won by a claimant. And the cost of malpractice insurance has nothing to do with the cost of medical treatment. If a physician treats a patient properly, they don’t have to be worried about being sued. This would mean taking the time to actually care about something other than their pay check. The days of those doctors are few and far between… don’t any of you find it funny that if and when you go to the doctors you basically tell them what is wrong with you… for instance, you go to the doctors because you think you may have oh lets’s say an ear infection because you have all of the symptoms and you tell the doctor what you think is wrong, they ask you what are your symptoms and you tell them. They prescribe you an antibiotic after looking in your ear(s) and feeling your throat. But is that doctor an ear specialist? Probably not, could it be something else? Perhaps, but did they test you for something else?? No because you told them what was wrong and didn’t even have to go to school for 8+/- years to figure it out. So shouldn’t you get paid for self diagnosing and they only get paid for confirmation of diagnosis? Yes, but again… they have the degree and you don’t so you think they know what is best for you… when in all actuality it is you that knows what is best for you! It is those that are naive enough to trust what their doctor says and prescribes that end up injured and/or dead. Medicine is all a game… since every pill causes side effects of sorts and in some cases a doctor keeps you coming back for treatments or visits by utilizing drugs or “disorders” afterall if they treated the ailment properly you wouldn’t need to go back and they would be out of a job.

        1.  If the doctors practiced medicine as they should, there would not be patients being injured or a need for a lawsuit.

    2. Do you trust your doctor?? When your doctor prescribes you a medication, don’t you take it as directed?? After all who are you to question an educated professional that you see regularly for treatment. Don’t judge someone until you have walked in their shoes. May God have mercy on you and may Karma never bite you in the….

    3. You  take your med as you are directed by your doctor unless other wise told by him thats what they say on tv all the time. If the meds do some thing to you ,,you call you dr.

    4.  have you ever tried to get a call back from an MD or feel as if he is even paying attention when you are trying to get an answer? The insurance companies are pushing the MD to see more and more patients per hr. Heaven forbid you might take too much of a doctor’s time.

  13. Ok, so for all of you doubters in what is undoubtedly the truth, Whalen did as the doctor instructed, the doctor knew her entire medical history as he had to know what pre-existing conditions she had to properly treat her and he is an associate with her now former family physician so her case was discussed between the two. Prior to being prescribed the Methadone, she was a very vibrant woman, very attentive and very independent. For those of you that think she is a drug addict or is brain dead…. tell me how does someone that is brain dead hold down a steady good paying job for 18 years? None of her children are lazy and yes they do care for and love their mother very deeply. You all rant and rave but not one of you are in the situation, not one of you has had to watch her with her frustrations nor did you have to listen as she stated she was sent back by her late ex-husband… which now she can not even remember but the children that she had with him do. None of you have had to suffer her pain or anguish of not being able to do simple things that you may take for granted such as cooking a meal… or being able to watch a child unsupervised. Those that complain about the cost of healthcare costing so much and the insurance costing so much… it is not because of cases like this, it is because doctors are greedy and insurance companies are also in the business of making money and with more and more people cancelling their insurance because they don’t use it they need to raise their rates to compensate for the loss in premiums… yes it is true that claims play on this… but it is not as much as you would like to think. Now those of you that think she just got rich… think again… before she gets anything the lawyer gets paid, then all of his expenses including the experts that were used, then all that was paid by the insurance company for medical expenses when she had insurance, then money set aside for future medical expenses for therapy and residual effects for the rest of her life expectancy… so how much do you think she will really get?? Honestly speaking, not one of you would question your doctor or a doctor that is giving you treatment since after all… they are the one that attended school for some 8 +/- years and should know better than you how to treat you… and she was different during those 2 1/2 days… she was groggy, unable to get up out of bed without assistance and she did call her doctors office and they without seeing her told her she had a urinary infection and prescribed antibiotics for that. Now I ask you, where is the standard of care that all licensed medical professionals swear to when they sign on with the MMA?? Apparently it has gone out the window along with real common sense… which apparently has been lost by some of you. For those that agree with this verdict I applaud you. For those that have been supportive I thank you. For those that lost someone because of this drug and the ignorance of pill pushing doctors my heart goes out to you. For those that disagree I can only hope that karma does not put you through what this family will have to go through and has had to go through.

    1. Amen well said. Please remember Doctors are insured millions of dollars every year for Medical Mal Practice.  It is almost impossible to prosecute a Doctor even in Wrongful Death cases here in the United States. You can not put a price on what this lady has lost as a human being such as her dignity… she can no longer function without assitance. Methadone has become big business in the last decade for the reason it is so cheap and was put on the market as a pain medication. Doctors and Pharm Co’s have built a multi million dollar industry annually. There is so much more to the truth behind Methadone…need more proof Google Methadone Deaths and Injuries. Please visit http://www.stopmethadonedeaths.com sign the petition, share your story and join the forum. You may save a life.

    2.  I like your post but have 1 question, as a disabled state employee, she will receive health insurance at no cost. however, when she turns 65 will have to go on Medicare (I am assuming she will qualify thru her ex husband) but will receive the companion plan free of charge.  You speak as if she lost her health insurance.

      1. She did lose her health insurance, once you are no longer a state employee you lose that benefit unless you retire as a state employee. She did not retire as she was not old enough to retire. And everything that the insurance did pay has to be paid back because suit was brought against the doctor that treated her. Does that answer your query?

  14. I have a friend in Rumford that print near died because the DR. mess up on the meds she was taken.

  15. Dosing with methadose pills for pain is different; not equal milligram to milligram of liquid methadone used in clincs for substance abuse treatment.
    You’de have to be an “insider” someone that that has medical experience in prescribing for and treating pain with methadose, to understand what might have gone on here.
    I deny having any experience and knowledge in this area as I’m sure the general public doesn’t either.

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