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Butler County crash inquiry stymied in quest for clinic records

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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.

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