Share This Page

Butler County crash inquiry stymied in quest for clinic records

| Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 9:35 p.m.

State police in Butler say federal rules that protect patients are making it difficult to get records from a Cranberry methadone clinic that treated a heroin addict an hour before his vehicle plowed head-on into another, killing a Butler man last month.

The company that owns the clinic says police need a court order, not just a local or federal warrant.

“We are looking to see what we need to do to move this forward. Someone was killed, and we need to see what this clinic knew before they gave him methadone, what their paperwork shows. This has become a major problem with us,” said Lt. Eric Hermick of the state police in Butler.

Justin Enslen, 25, of Renfrew drove into the path of a car driven by Mark Bishop, 52, of Butler on Route 68 in Connoquenessing after a Feb. 18 visit to Discovery House, a methadone clinic in Cranberry, police say.

Bishop died, and his sister, Holly Merkner, 41, of Lyndora, suffered minor injuries.

According to Ricky Froncillo, a patient advocate for Providence, R.I.-based Discovery House, which operates 18 clinics nationwide including the one in Cranberry, search warrants, under federal law, are inadequate for release of patient records.

“A court order is needed, with the chance to reply in writing and get a hearing. A judge will have to hold a hearing and determine whether the records should be turned over. If the judge orders the records turned over, we have no other choice,” Froncillo said.

Froncillo, who has treated drug addicts for 37 years, said he has only seen that occur a couple of times.

On Tuesday, a Butler County judge issued a warrant to search the clinic. But, “We have been told that we need a federal warrant and are working with the district attorney to get one,” Hermick said before clinic representatives pointed out the federal statute. Police said they also are getting advice from the DEA about how to proceed.

Since the accident, drug tests showed Enslen, who is being held in the Butler County Jail, had opiates, marijuana and benzodiazepines — which include such drugs as Valium — in his system.

Federal and state rules prohibit clinics from knowingly administering methadone to patients with illegal drugs in their systems.

Froncillo said Pennsylvania law requires methadone patients to be drug tested 12 times a year. Federal law requires eight tests each year. When asked when Enslen was last tested, Froncillo said he could not discuss patients' cases.

Tests are done at random. “It's once a month, not every 30 days,” he said.

Enslen is charged with vehicular homicide and vehicular homicide while driving on a suspended license as a result of a DUI conviction. He was driving a pickup truck that belonged to his brother, Jeremy Enslen, at the time of the crash.

“We're also looking into why he was driving his brother's car and whether his brother knew,” Hermick said.

Jeremy Enslen of Uniontown said he did not know that his brother was using the truck.

“He did not have permission from me, but it was not stolen. That's all I can say to protect myself,” Jeremy Enslen said.

Pennsylvania has no law specific to methadone use and driving.

Last year, the state set up the Methadone Death and Serious Incident Review Team, which the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs oversees. The team reviews incidents such as Enslen's and circumstances surrounding methadone-related deaths and accidents in hopes of preventing them, said Christine Cronkright, a spokeswoman for Gov. Tom Corbett.

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

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.