Dr. Gosy pleads guilty to unlawfully prescribing painkillers; overdose death charges dropped
A Williamsville pain specialist, who had been accused of causing six overdose deaths, has admitted to unlawfully prescribing painkillers over the course of a decade.
Dr. Eugene Gosy pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court to two of the more than 70 counts against him: conspiracy to unlawfully distribute controlled substances and health care fraud. As part of the plea, Gosy and the U.S. Attorney’s Office have agreed to a sentence of six and a half years in federal prison and nearly $700,000 in restitution and forfeiture.
“It was a very, very tough, agonizing decision for all of us, particularly for Dr. Gosy,” said Gosy’s attorney, Joel Daniels. “He’s a very, very proud man. He’s a great doctor. He’s a brilliant doctor. It was a very, very tough call for him.”
The plea was something of a surprise. Jury selection for Gosy’s trial was set to begin Tuesday morning. Instead, Gosy and prosecutors came to a last-second plea deal.
Daniels said the defense was ready for trial, but ultimately agreed to the deal because it dismissed six felony counts related to the opioid overdose deaths of Gosy’s patients.
“If there was a conviction on any one of those death instances, it could result in a very, very long sentence, perhaps even a life sentence,” Daniels told reporters after the plea. “So that’s a very, very tough risk to take.”
U.S. Attorney James Kennedy said prosecutors were confident about the death-related charges, but noted the inherent risk that comes with a trial. He added the case was also complicated by the fact Gosy’s patients took the painkillers on their own volition.
“He’s not a cold-blooded murderer,” Kennedy said. “It’s not as though he walked up to people and put a gun to their head and pulled the trigger. If that was the case, we wouldn’t be standing here today.”
Kennedy said he believes Gosy agreed to the deal after prosecutors turned over their evidence to him over the last several weeks, adding it’s not rare for defendants to plead guilty right before the case goes to trial.
“Often times people have to confront the harsh reality of the evidence against them,” he said.
Gosy, 59, operated Gosy and Associates Pain and Neurology Treatment Center in Williamsville, employing about 50 people, including physician assistants and nurse practitioners.The practice was consistently the largest prescriber of controlled substances in all of New York state, even out prescribing large hospitals, according to prosecutors.
Gosy was originally indicted in 2016. The initial 166-count indictment accused him of writing more than 300,000 illegal prescriptions.
In pleading guilty to two counts Tuesday, Gosy admitted to prescribing opioids like fentanyl, oxycodone and hydrocodone unlawfully from 2006 to 2016. This included prescribing without a legitimate medical purpose and prescribing to patients he knew were addicted and had previously overdosed.
Prosecutors also accuse Gosy of other malpractices, including issuing prescriptions without conducting an examination; pre-signing blank prescriptions and permitting others to fill out the remaining information; and failing to refer patients to drug treatment centers.
The health care fraud charge is related to Gosy defrauding insurance companies by signing off on patients’ workers’ compensation claims despite not having personally treated them.
Kennedy acknowledged that Gosy was not alone in overprescribing opioids, as doing so used to be common practice in the medical community. However, Kennedy said that while some doctors changed their prescribing practices as they learned about the dangers of opioids, Gosy never did.
“He simply become too big,” Kennedy said. “I think he probably started out with good intentions as a physician and at some point he made a conscious decision where he had to cut corners in his practice in order to maintain the number of patients and the income flow he wanted. It is, in some ways, a tragic case. … Not that he wanted to hurt anybody, but that he experienced greed.”
Gosy has surrendered his DEA registration number, meaning he can no longer prescribe controlled substances. He’s currently practicing medicine for Invision Health in Buffalo. New York state will determine whether to strip him of his physician's license.
Kennedy said the Gosy’s prosecution has served as a warning to other Western New York prescribers, and perhaps even aided efforts to combat the opioid crisis. He noted that Erie County opioid overdose deaths decreased from 301 in 2016 to just 108 this past year.
“Those results speak for themselves,” he said. “I can’t say it’s all as a result of this prosecution, certainly I’d be naive to suggest that it is, but it is part of the three-pronged strategy we’ve adopted to address this opioid epidemic in our community, and that is enforcement, treatment and prevention.”
Gosy will remain out on bail until his sentencing by Chief U.S. District Judge Frank Geraci Jr. on May 21.