The investigation into a local doctor in response to the death of a patient due to complications caused by medications prescribed her is being led by the Pa. Department of State following her father's continued appeals to state officials for an investigation.
Jim Buehler of Ridgway has spent the last four years pursuing legal action in the July 7, 2008 death of his daughter, Heather Buehler Armanini, whom he claims was prescribed excessive amounts of powerful, habit-forming drugs by a local doctor, including a mixture of oxycodone and acetaminophen.
Armanini's autopsy listed liver failure resulting from acute acetaminophen toxicity as the cause of death. Buehler is claiming wrongful death on part of the doctor at the center of the investigation, whom he said prescribed his daughter 180 pills three days apart, with refills totaling roughly 9,000 pills in just over a year.
"It was inevitable she was going to die," he said.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, overdose from prescription combination products containing acetaminophen accounts for nearly half of all cases of acetaminophen-related liver failure in the United States, many of which result in liver transplant or death.
Buehler claims the doctor continued to supply his daughter with the medications even after pharmacists and the State Prescription Drug Monitoring Program made numerous phone calls and sent registered letters expressing concern that Armanini was being over-prescribed.
Buehler said his daughter, who worked as an office manager at a doctor's office, knew firsthand the dangers of drug addiction but fell victim to those same risks herself.
"She watched other people get hooked and she got hooked," Buehler said.
Buehler said he was oblivious that such a serious problem with his daughter existed, believing the symptoms she exhibited were flu-like.
"If I had known. I could have saved her," he said.
In November 2011, Buehler and attorney Shawn McMahon held a press conference at the Elk County Courthouse calling for a state investigation into Armanini's death, as well as greater accountability and oversight of medical personnel prescribing harmful and potentially addictive substances like those supplied to his daughter.
McMahon credited the case being investigated by the state to Buehler's efforts, which included the collection of 930 signatures from area residents on a petition sent to Governor Tom Corbett along with a letter urging him to intervene.
"I can tell you this, given Mr. Buehler's actions, he has some momentum in this case in his process of petitioning the governor and at least getting it to Harrisburg," McMahon said.
McMahon said that shortly after Buehler's Nov. 18, 2011 letter to the governor, Buehler was contacted by the Pa. Department of State in reply to the letter; the agency commenced its investigation in that same month.
"As it stands right now, the Department of State is handling the case," McMahon said. "The Department of State has devoted time and resources and been keeping the Buehlers advised."
According to Buehler, investigators from the Pa. Department of State have been actively interviewing individuals.
Buehler said in speaking with the "head investigator," he was told that the investigation had been productive.
"He said nobody was afraid to talk and the people he interviewed gave him a wealth of information. Everybody's telling them the same story," Buehler said of the head investigator.
Pick up a copy of the Saturday, July 14, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.