Probation ordered for Dr. Richard Barney on prescription fraud charges

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Kevin Murphy/Special to The Gazette
Tuesday, April 15, 2014

MADISON--A prominent Rock County emergency medical physician who fraudulently obtained prescription medication for his addiction to painkillers was placed on two years probation and fined $3,000 Tuesday in federal court.

Dr. Richard N. Barney's felony conviction “probably ends his distinguished medical career,” defense attorney William Hayes said.

In the past 24 years, Barney, 53, saved many lives and helped elevate the practice of emergency medicine in southern Wisconsin, Hayes said.

Barney held positions including:

-- Chief of staff at Beloit Memorial Hospital

-- EMS Medical Director for Southern Rock County

-- Janesville Fire Department medical director.

-- State emergency medical services medical director

-- Flight physician for University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics

Barney also developed an addiction to narcotic pain killers from a 1994 back injury.  He took Vicodin for several months as prescribed but then continued to take it to prevent withdrawal. His addiction never affected his skills or judgment and co-workers were surprised in 2013 to learn of his addiction, Hayes wrote to the court earlier this year.

Barney in 2005 completed a program at Hazelden Treatment Center but did not continue with out-patient treatment. Beloit Memorial Hospital and the Southern Wisconsin Emergency Associates medical group that employed him wanted his addiction issue to remain private, Hayes wrote.

That was a “huge mistake" because narcotic addiction has an 80 percent relapse rate and addicts must stay in recovery programs for the rest of their lives, Hayes wrote.

Calls to Beloit Memorial Hospital and Southern Wisconsin Emergency Associates for comment on the reason Barney did not participate in outpatient treatment were not returned before deadline.

Barney again had back surgery in 2010 and became addicted to prescribed pain killers. After the prescription ran out, Barney began self-prescribing narcotics for his own use.

Barney fraudulently obtained Percocet 95 times in an 18-month span from 2011-13 by using a prescription vending machine, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Altman said.

When Barney wanted to get painkillers, he wrote out prescriptions in the names of patients and picked up the drugs for himself, according to the indictment.

Barney acquired Percocet by sending prescriptions to an InstyMeds machine at Beloit Memorial Hospital in the names of 15 patients without the patients' knowledge, authorities said.

The InstyMeds machine, which is about the size of a soda vending machine, dispenses medication to patients who have obtained a patient drug voucher from a prescribing physician.

When Barney wanted to get painkillers, he wrote out prescriptions in the names of patients and picked up the drugs for himself, according to the indictment. - See more at: http://www.gazettextra.com/article/20131217/ARTICLES/131219725#sthash.ADEmGcpc.dpuf

By April 2013, Barney's addiction was again discovered, and he resigned from his appointments to Beloit Memorial Hospital, Janesville Fire Department and University Hospital.

When indicted in August, Barney was Mercy Health Care System director for emergency medicine. Mercy put him on leave of absence but wanted him back if he is not placed on the Office of Inspector General's exclusion list, Hayes wrote.

“Mercy knows Dr. Barney saves lives,” Hayes wrote the court.

Being included on the exclusion list effectively ends Barney's medical career because it prevents Medicare and Medicaid from reimbursing any health care entity that employs Barney, Hayes wrote.

“He's 54, now. Medicine moves so fast that he's in effect done practicing medicine. There will be lives lost in our community. Of that I have no doubt,” Hayes told District Judge Lynn Adelman.

Barney said he took “full responsibility for the drug diversion” he engaged in and understood that “there are consequences to addiction, which is a terrible illness.”

Barney completed an addiction treatment program last year and continues to receive substance abuse treatment as an outpatient, Hayes said.

The Department of Public Safety and Professional Services investigated Barney's conduct and entered into a confidential agreement that allows him to keep his medical license, said Hannah Zillmer, a department spokesperson.

Altman said her office received many letters from public safety agencies asking that Barney not be prosecuted and later asking for leniency.

“There's no reason to dispute that Dr. Barney is a tremendous asset to the community but even tremendous assets still need to be held accountable for their crime,” she said.

Adelman considered probation and a fine “just punishment” after factoring in “collateral damage” to Barney that includes the likely loss of his career. Adelman also noted Barney did not distribute the drugs to others and there was no evidence it diminished the level of care to patients.

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