Following years of practicing under investigation, pain doctor Eugene Gosy will learn his fate when he’s sentenced on May 21.
Gosy pleaded guilty in early January to federal charges of health care fraud and conspiracy to unlawfully distribute controlled substances. The agreement reached with the government says he will spend the next six and a half years in prison.
When he was indicted in 2016, Dr. Gosy wrote more prescriptions than any other doctor in the state, according to then-U.S. Attorney William Hochul. Hochul said then Gosy cut corners and committed crimes.
But some in the medical community say the doctor was providing a desperately needed service — and his arrest created shockwaves that are still being felt.
“It was essentially clinical abandonment, on behalf of our clinical care model,” said Dr. Christopher Kerr, CEO, CMO for the Center for Hospice and Palliative Care. “And the patients were left without any other good options, and it has enormous consequences.”
Dr. Kerr is one of three doctors who helped the Williamsville-based Gosy and Associates transition in the wake of the indictment. Kerr called the weeks and months that followed chaotic.
“Basically what’s happened in the end here, is that politics trumped medicine,” Kerr said. “They came, they went, and they didn’t solve anything. They created more of the problem.”
The impact Dr. Gosy’s indictment had across Western New York was immediate and longterm, and its effects are still evident.
Anna Montgomery has been a patient of Dr. Gosy’s for eight years.
The Kenmore mother has a genetic connective tissue disorder, which has led to a host of life-threatening conditions, including chronic regional pain syndrome.
She lives her life in what would be excruciating, debilitating pain — without the use of strong opiates like methadone.
“There is no cure, there is no treatment. You treat the occurrences,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery says she and other Gosy patients felt attacked when the indictment was handed up in 2016. And she was terrified as her supply of medicine dwindled.
“It was all very, waiting for the guillotine to drop,” she said. “I’d stare at the pill bottle. I would take it in the morning, I would stare at it and cry, because I don’t have enough. If they don’t find someone to reopen this building and give me a script, what’s going to happen to me? What’s going to happen to my kids? What’s going to happen to my husband, my house, my dogs. I was in my mid-30s. What am I going to do? Because I’m looking down the barrel of a gun.”
Dr. Nancy Nielsen, the senior associate dean for health policy at the Jacobs School of Medicine at the University at Buffalo, also participated in the transition at Gosy and Associates.
“It was a real public health crisis because although there were 10 mid-level practitioners at the practice, they weren’t allowed to practice unless they had a doctor that had a DEA license,” Dr. Nielsen said. “For two and a half weeks, there were tragedies. There were a number of people who got admitted to hospitals in withdrawal. There were people who went to the streets. There were several deaths from overdoses.”
But beyond individual patients, the sudden shuttering of Gosy’s practice had a ripple effect on Western New York’s entire medical community.
“What did you think was going to happen?” Kerr said. “It’s not a difficult equation. They probably had to walk by the hundred patients who were waiting outside the door, as they were shutting the door. Where were they going to go?”
Finding another doctor to provide similar treatment wasn’t an option. Most didn’t offer it. And those who could were afraid of also finding themselves in the DEA’s crosshairs.
“Because of the fear in the physician community, these patients were medical refugees,” Dr. Nielsen said.
Many flooded emergency rooms, seeking treatment for withdrawal and pain.
“And unfortunately patients that were patients of Dr. Gosy’s had to resort to those activities (misuse, overdose, use disorder traits) out of desperation,” said Dr. Joshua Lynch, emergency physician for Kaleida Health and ECMC. “These patients were panicking, and they were coming to us, kind of hoping for assistance, and we tried our best to help them in an appropriate manner.”
Dr. Paul Updike, the medical director for substance abuse services for the Catholic Health System, found himself on the front lines, shouldering some of the burden created by the Gosy case.
“Certainly a majority of patients who are prescribed opiates for chronic pain condition do not develop addiction,” Dr. Updike said. “But if the medicines are suddenly withdrawn, and they’re left to deal with the pain and/or the consequences of withdrawal, patients are oftentimes forced into finding relief from nonmedical sources. That happened to many of our patients. Many, many of our patients.”
Dr. Gosy is still practicing, although at a different clinic. He’s also prohibited from writing prescriptions.
Montgomery is still a patient, receiving pain-blocking treatment several times a year. She says Dr. Gosy is the only person she trusts to perform the procedure. That too will end once he’s sentenced in May — leaving her once again scrambling for a lifeline.
“I have cried a lot over this. He saved my life. He gave me a life,” she said. “I wouldn’t have my daughter. So losing that, losing that compassion, there’s an impact with that, and by no fault of mine. It’s like a divorce, but I’m still happy in my marriage.”
Representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment. The office regularly doesn’t comment on cases that are still considered open. Gosy’s case won’t be closed until May 21.