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Methadone clinic's potential liability in fatal crash reviewed

| Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

State police and state government officials want to know whether a Cranberry methadone clinic followed proper procedures in the case of a recovering heroin addict accused of driving head-on into another car, killing a man, after visiting the clinic.

Justin Enslen, 25, of Renfrew is charged with vehicular homicide and vehicular homicide while driving on a suspended license. A Tuesday court date was continued and was not reset. His license was suspended as a result of a prior DUI case, records show.

“He had other drugs in his system. We are looking into the background of this and would like to know whether the clinic knowingly gave him medication while he was on other drugs. We want to know what liability might the methadone clinic have,” said Lt. Eric Hermick of state police in Butler County.

The state also is investigating, said Christine Cronkright, a spokeswoman for Gov. Tom Corbett.

“Whenever there is an incident reported, we investigate it. If there are findings of non-compliance on behalf of the clinic ... they will be on the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs' website under the treatment agency survey results,” Cronkright said.

Rob Kornacki, director of development for Providence, R.I.-based Discovery House, which treated Enslen, said it is common for patients to drive to methadone treatments. He said the company, which operates the Cranberry clinic and 17 other methadone clinics nationwide, will cooperate with police.

After visiting Discovery House on Feb. 18, Enslen drove into the path of a car driven by Mark Bishop, 52, of Butler on Route 68 in Connoquenessing, police say.

Bishop died and his sister, Holly Merkner, 41, of Lyndora, suffered minor injuries. Merkner could not be reached on Monday.

Pennsylvania has no law specific to methadone use and driving, Cronkright said, but laws against impaired driving related to prescribed medications or illegal drugs apply.

Last year, the state set up the Methadone Death and Serious Incident Review Team, overseen by the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. The team will review incidents such as Enslen's and circumstances surrounding methadone-related deaths and accidents, Cronkright said.

The question of whether people being treated with methadone should drive is complicated, and police and drug addiction experts don't seem to agree.

Roz Sugarman, owner of Addiction Specialists Inc., a methadone clinic on Route 51 near Uniontown, said driving is fine for patients receiving a proper dose of methadone.

“Nurses and staff should be able to tell if someone is taking other drugs,” she said.

Drugs such as benzodiazepines and various painkillers are problematic when combined with methadone, Sugarman said.

“People should not be taking both, much less driving while taking both,” she said.

Police say they are increasingly concerned about people driving under the influence of all kinds of drugs.

“It's a big concern for law enforcement, people driving under the influence of medications, depending on how the drugs react together,” said Jeffrey Schueler, director of public safety in Cranberry.

State police are trained to recognize impairment from drugs, Hermick said.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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