Patient Suicide Blamed on Montana Pain Clinic — Pain News Network – May 26, 2017 – By Pat Anson
A 54-year old Montana man who apparently committed suicide earlier this month was a patient at a Great Falls pain clinic accused of mistreating patients and poorly managing their chronic pain. Bryan Spece was found dead in his Lewistown home on May 3.
“From what we know, about two weeks before his death, they had cut his pain pills back significantly. We’re not sure the exact amount. We’re trying to get ahold of his medical records,” said a family member.
Until recently, Spece was one of several hundred patients being treated at the Benefis Pain Management Center by Rodney Lutes, a physician assistant (PA). The 68-year old Lutes was discharged by Benefis in March for unexplained reasons and the care of his patients was transferred to other providers at the clinic.
Many of Lutes’ former patients – including some who were on relatively high doses of opioid pain medication – say they are now being “bullied” and treated like drug addicts by Benefis doctors and clinic staff.
Their prescriptions for pain medication have been drastically reduced or stopped entirely.
“My suspicion is that, like the rest of my patients, he got totally slammed at this pain clinic at Benefis and they probably took all his medicines away,” Lutes told PNN. “Right now I am so angry about this happening. This was a good guy.”
According to his obituary, Spece was a gun collector, Marine Corps veteran, Oakland Raiders fan and belonged to a motorcycle club. Friends and family called him “Bonz.”
“He was a very loud fun loving kind of guy you always knew when Bonz walked into a room,” reads the obituary published in the Helena Independent Record.
But recently some noticed that Spece was depressed about his inability to work regularly because of chronic pain from carpal tunnel syndrome and an old back injury.
“He was having money issues with not being able to work as often because of the pain and with having his pain pills cut back. He was just very stressed, constantly, about it,” said the family member, who believes Benefis is responsible for Spece’s death.
Rothwell has organized a support group for Lutes’ patients and has reached about 100 of them so far. The group has formed an active online community and is trying to locate hundreds of other former Lutes’ patients to offer them support. Rothwell worries there could be more suicides.
“I truly feel that we failed in the case of Bryan Spece and perhaps several others who have taken their lives because of Benefis’ actions. They felt so alone and in despair that suicide was the only answer. We just do not know about them yet. It truly breaks my heart,” she said in an email. “We just need to figure out how to reach those folks. Perhaps Bryan’s death will help us find a few more folks on the brink, who we can pull back with love, support and hugs.”
In April, a disgruntled pain patient burned down a doctor’s home near Great Falls, held the doctor’s wife at gunpoint and killed himself during a standoff with police. David Herron was not a patient at the pain clinic, but suffered from chronic back pain and apparently had a long-standing grievance with the doctor, an orthopedic surgeon for Benefis.
In a statement emailed to Pain News Network last week, a Benefis pain management specialist outlined the clinic’s policy about opioid medication.
Supposedly, they don’t do exactly what they did.
“Our clinic does not suddenly discontinue opioid prescriptions for patients unless we feel it is unsafe to continue prescribing them,” said Katrina Lewis, MD.
“We are following evidenced-based practice and recommendations of reputable pain societies in approaching the care we provide. We recognize that opioids absolutely have a place in the management of chronic pain for some patients. Our focus is to treat each patient individually with use of risk stratification and evaluation of patient pathology and co-morbidities.”
But the form letters sent by Benefis to hundreds of Rodney Lutes’ patients in March could hardly be described as treating “each patient individually.”
Patients were notified that
- Lutes was no longer practicing at the pain clinic,
- they were being reassigned to new providers, and
- their prescriptions would probably be changed.
They were also told not to complain.
Telling patients not to complain about an announcement of changes in their treatment seems bizarre. In effect, it says that patients must obey and consent to any changes made in their treatment – even before the treatment has changed.
This shows the clinic knew exactly what would happen and ignored all the normal ethical considerations about medical treatments
“Your new provider will do a thorough evaluation of all your medications and will likely make changes that he or she feels are in your best interests,” a form letter with the salutation “Dear Valued Patient” states.
How could the administration of this organization know that patients’ treatments and prescriptions were going to be changed before even examining the patient?
“Please be aware that arguing or complaining about changes in your prescriptions will not alter your clinician’s care plan.”
“The prescriptions you will be given may not be what you are used to. It will be what is appropriate for your care,” another form letter says. “Verbal or written complaints to staff and management will not result in a change to your prescription.”
What’s happening at Benefis is a microcosm of what’s happening all over the country. Patients are being abruptly weaned off opioids or being abandoned by doctors and pain clinics that are fearful of running afoul of the CDC’s “voluntary” prescribing guidelines, the DEA, or their own liability insurers.
Some providers are steering patients toward surgeries or costly “interventional” procedures that they don’t want.
This comes as a courtesy of “Interventional Pain Management” specialists who make incredible profits from their dangerous and invasive and often useless, if not damaging, surgical interventions.
At PNN, we hear regularly from chronic pain patients who were able to lead stable and productive lives for years on relatively high doses of opioids – a medical treatment that many are now denied and are told doesn’t work. Many pain sufferers are in despair, increasingly disabled, and having suicidal thoughts.
“This man was the most happy-go-lucky man. He adored his grandchildren. He was a good time, all of the time. If he hadn’t been in so much pain, I don’t think he would have had a negative thought,” a family member told us.