April 11, 2009 in City

State says doctor misused drugs

Dermatologist’s lawyer calls accusations false
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane dermatologist Dr. William P. Werschler has been accused of using and providing drugs without legitimate medical reasons by the state’s Medical Quality Assurance Commission.

The commission does not allege that any patients were harmed, and Werschler’s medical license hasn’t been suspended. He owns Spokane Dermatology Clinic.

Werschler’s attorney, Bill Etter, called the allegations false, the product of vendettas, a contentious divorce and a sloppy investigation.

“This is the first time I’ve seen one of these that didn’t come from a patient,” Etter said. “We think the charges are a purposeful attempt to smear Dr. Werschler.

“If the patients aren’t complaining, then who is?”

Michael Farrell, staff attorney for the commission, said it is state policy not to disclose the sources of such accusations.

The charges, made in mid-March, allege that Werschler used and provided cocaine, marijuana and the painkiller hydrocodone numerous times prior to May 2007.

An investigator also alleged that Werschler falsified drug records regarding two other substances used at the clinic, including fentanyl, a painkiller, and midazolam, a sedative. The accusations were partly based on interviews with an office manager who said he or she refused to cooperate in Werschler’s alleged scheme.

Etter said that the record-keeping might have been imperfect but that Werschler was not trying to mask illegal activity.

Farrell said the Medical Quality Assurance Commission’s investigators are working with agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

Werschler has not been charged with crimes and has not been interviewed by federal agents, Etter said. He has passed drug tests and has never been convicted of a crime.

The commission is a 21-member panel appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire that regulates doctors and investigates complaints. Its members are 13 physicians, two physician assistants and six members of the public, currently including at least two attorneys.

Werschler has until mid-May to file a formal response to the commission’s allegations of unprofessional conduct and of violating state rules.

The case could become messy.

Werschler’s divorce from Kara Werschler, finalized in 2005, went to trial over control of the clinic and money. A judge ruled that the medical practice was owned Dr. Werschler, whose 20-year medical career predated his relationship with Kara Werschler. An appeal confirmed that ruling.

Etter said the unnamed tipster’s complaint to the commission occurred at the same time of the divorce outcome.

Dr. Werschler referred a reporter’s interview request to his attorneys, Etter and Mark Vovos.

His ex-wife did not return a phone message left at her office.

Etter estimated that the attorney fees from the divorce neared $1 million.


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