Doctor Accused of Falsifying Drug Studies Pleads Guilty

Dr. Scott S. Reuben, former chief of acute pain at the Bay State Hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts, has pleaded guilty to one count of health care fraud. As we’ve reported previously, Reuben was charged in federal court last month with falsifying studies involving the post-surgical benefits of drugs like <"">Vioxx, <"">Bextra, <"">Celebrex, <"">Effexor and <"">Lyrica.

According to the Associated Press, federal prosecutors in Massachusetts had alleged that Reuben sought and received research grants from pharmaceutical companies but never performed the studies. Instead, for over a dozen years, he fabricated patient data for studies he submitted to, and were ultimately published in, medical journals.

An investigation by Bay State Hospital last year found 21 papers published in anesthesiology journals between 1996 and 2008 in which Reuben made up some or all of the data. According to the Associated Press, the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia retracted 10 of Reuben’s studies last February. The journal Anesthesiology retracted three.

Unfortunately, Reuben had a great deal of influence on the practice of medicine. Because of Reuben’s “research,” it had become routine for doctors to combine the use of painkillers like Vioxx for patients undergoing common procedures such as knee and hip replacements. Reuben even had the ear of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and wrote the agency asking it not to restrict the use of many of the painkillers he studied. He often cited his data to make his case, according to a prior Wall Street Journal piece.

In many cases, the drugs Reuben pushed carried serious risks – for example, the labeling of Effexor warns it has been linked to suicides in young people and children. Bextra, Celebrex, and Vioxx have been linked to heart attacks and stroke. Vioxx and Bextra were eventually removed from the market because of concerns about potential heart risks.

In a statement released Monday, Reuben’s attorney said he was suffering from a serious a bipolar disorder that was only accurately diagnosed in 2008 and had no financial motive when he committed the offenses.

As part of his plea agreement, Reuben will repay $361,932 in research grants and forfeit assets worth at least $50,000. He has also agreed to not practice medicine. In addition, Reuben faces up to 10 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine, the Associated Press said. His sentencing is scheduled for May.

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