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Doctor accused in three overdoses, but records show more patients died

Published Jan. 11, 2015

TAMPA — Medical examiner records link a Pinellas Park pain management doctor to more than a dozen people who died of drug overdoses and left behind pill bottles that bore his name.

New findings bring to at least 17 the number of patients whose deaths have been attributed to drug toxicity after they were prescribed controlled substances by Dr. Edward Neil Feldman.

The information doesn't prove that Feldman was to blame or even that the patients took his pills.

A federal indictment unsealed last week faulted Feldman, 75, in three prescription drug-related deaths, while charging him and his wife with hiding proceeds of a $6 million drug conspiracy.

He has also been accused by the Florida Department of Health of dispensing oxycodone, the anti-anxiety drug Valium, and Soma, a muscle relaxant, to a 57-year-old woman "in strengths and quantities which were potentially lethal."

The statement is contained in one of three administrative complaints pending before the Florida Board of Medicine that claim malpractice by Feldman.

Another tells of the fatal overdose of a man, 26, seen by Feldman at a Tampa clinic in 2009. The man obtained prescriptions for 680 oxycodone pills within 38 days, the state charges.

A tally of fatal overdoses by Feldman patients hasn't been announced by authorities, but many can be drawn from public records.

The Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office queried its database at the request of the Tampa Bay Times to seek death investigations in which remnants of Feldman-prescribed drugs were collected at the scene.

Some deaths were attributed to diseases, such as diabetes. But 15 were attributed to toxic levels of oxycodone, methadone or combinations of drugs.

At least one of the federal cases was not included in the group, a patient identified by initials that were not present among the 15. Nor was the 2009 Tampa death.

The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office attempted a similar database search, but its program is new and cannot access past years' records.

The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment on the rationale for charging Feldman in some deaths but not others.

Although toxicology studies can identify the main players in a person's death, it's not possible to know whether the pills came from a particular bottle, said Bill Pellan, director of investigations for the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office.

Another complicating factor: Blood tests often show multiple drugs, which may have been prescribed by different doctors.

Prosecutors have to establish that if not for a doctor's actions, the patient would not have died.

Feldman could face a minimum of 20 years in prison — or up to life — if Assistant U.S. Attorney Shauna Hale proves that patient deaths resulted from drugs Feldman prescribed that were "not for a legitimate medical purpose and not in the usual course of professional practice."

He has not yet entered a plea.

His wife, Kim Xuan Feldman, 65, told a reporter Wednesday and Friday that neither of them wished to comment.

Attorney Dale Sisco and his brother represented the Feldmans at a court appearance last week. Sisco said Friday it wouldn't be appropriate for Feldman to discuss the medical examiner overdose records or the pending federal case.

"Generally, patients who have chronic pain and who are treated with opiates like oxycodone, they develop a dependence upon those drugs," Sisco said. "Unfortunately, the patients don't always take medication as it's been prescribed."

Several of the deceased had a history of drug abuse, according to the medical examiner notes.

The bodies of Joey Mayes, 24, and Lucas Ezell, 30, both of Pinellas Park, were each found with drugs and straws. Syringes were noted in two other cases.

Sisco said he doesn't know enough about the particulars to comment.

"I can't imagine there's a prescription from Dr. Feldman where he's instructed a patient to crush oxycodone and snort it or inject it," Sisco said. "I can't imagine that there would ever be such a prescription."

The attorney said the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program database did not exist at the time of the activity alleged in the federal indictment. The program began in 2011. The indictment singles out drug-related deaths from 2010 and 2011.

Feldman's prescriptions were also found at six overdose scenes from 2012 through 2014, Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner records show.

Contact Patty Ryan at pryan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3382.

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