A surgeon once named among “The Most Beautiful Doctors in America” has been accused of plying a former patient with “massive amounts of opiates” and charging her as much as $7,000 a day for multiple doses of highly addictive painkillers, according to a suit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court.
A $3 million malpractice suit filed by Maria Angeles Liberatore alleges that Dr. David Greuner, a cardiovascular surgeon who frequently makes TV appearances, turned his prescription pad into a cash machine, dosing her with almost 1,300 shots of Demerol and Dilauded, powerful opioids used to treat pain.
The lawsuit alleges that over the course of 13 months -- mostly in 2011 -- Greuner prescribed almost 700 shots of Demerol and more than 500 shots of Dilauded for Liberatore, a well-to-do businesswoman who became dependent on painkillers after a car crash in the 1980s.
But the suit alleges that after Liberatore met Greuner her dependency accelerated and that she required multiple daily doses of injectable Demerol – a drug that the FDA recommends should only be used to treat acute episodes of moderate to severe pain -- at a cost of nearly a $250,000 over the course of a year.
A pharmacy record submitted in the lawsuit also shows that Greuner prescribed Liberatore several hundred tablets of Methadone, a drug typically used to fight addiction to heroin and other narcotics.
"She was trying to get help from a doctor, that’s what you’re supposed to do," said James Stricker, an attorney who represents Liberatore.
Stricker said the quantity of opioids in Liberatore’s system nearly killed her and rendered her completely incoherent.
“The doctors submitted affidavits. She was rendered a small child. She was unable to act for herself, care for herself."
Liberatore declined the I-Team’s request for an interview.
Greuner, who was named among the nation’s most beautiful doctors by the syndicated talk show The Doctors and has appeared on other medical shows, also declined to comment to the I-Team.
He has a clean disciplinary record and is licensed in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and at least three other states.
In court papers filed in response to the malpractice suit, Greuner denied accusations of reckless prescribing and called Liberatore "an opportunist.”
He suggested Liberatore, who filed for bankruptcy in 2011, was trying to shake him down because she was nearly broke. He also claimed that the suit fell outside the statute of limitations.
"Likely realizing that the days of her action were numbered… [she] embarked upon a campaign to malign my reputation and harass my business colleagues to increase pressure for me to settle," Greuner said in the filing.
Greuner's prescriptions were administered, according to the suit, during pricey house calls under company names like called "Elite House Call," "NY Hotel Urgent Med," and "Premier House Call."
Representatives of those concierge doctor services were not available for comment.
According to Dr. Seth Waldman, Director of the Pain Management Division of the Hospital for Special Surgery, it would be extremely unusual for a doctor to prescribe hundreds of Demerol shots for a single patient to be taken at home.
"I can’t think of a circumstance in which you do that to a single patient,” said Waldman. “I can’t imagine a condition where, for somebody who doesn’t have a terminal illness, you would decide to manage them electively with injections of Demerol. That’s hard to imagine.”
Injectable opioids, Waldman said, are generally intended for acute pain relief like after a surgical operation or to alleviate pain during end-of-life palliative care.
Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer at the addiction treatment center Phoenix House and founder of the advocacy group Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, also said Demerol injections would be a highly unusual prescribing choice for a physician doing house calls to treat a patient with chronic pain associated with a car accident.
"Outside of a hospital or hospice care, it is highly unusual for a physician to treat an outpatient with injectable opioids. I haven’t heard of that before."
Greuner has motioned to have the case sealed to protect his reputation. At a hearing to discuss the motion his attorney, Caroline Wallitt, said an anonymous person has been harassing Greuner by posting on Yelp, writing to journalists, and alerting the doctor's colleagues to false accusations in the lawsuit.
"We believe it demonstrates a pattern of improper conduct that is designed to hurt Dr. Greuner. To malign him," Wallitt said.
Judge Schlesinger ultimately declined to seal the record, noting the decision is related to the nation’s opioid crisis.
At least one lawmaker – state Sen. Phil Boyle (R- Bay Shore) -- said he’d be following the case against Greuner.
Boyle has sponsored several bills aimed at battling opioid abuse and said that if Greuner has to pay a malpractice judgment to an admitted addict the case could have a much-needed chilling effect on how doctors deal with drug-seeking patients in the future.
"We may see a rash of lawsuits and if that is the case we're going to see a lot less over-prescribing,” he said.