Lawsuit filed against Manitowoc doctor, hospital in painkiller deaths


MANITOWOC COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) – A lawsuit has been filed against a doctor accused of over-prescribing painkillers and the hospital where he worked.

The suit was filed by nine plaintiffs, including the estates of four patients who died. It alleges Dr. Charles Szyman’s practice of prescribing prescription narcotics led to the deaths of Heidi Buretta, Monica Debot, Mark D. Gagnon, and Alan Eggert.

The plaintiffs are seeking compensation for damages and attorneys’ fees.

The document filed on Oct. 4 and obtained by Action 2 News names 14 defendants, including Dr. Szyman, Holy Family Memorial, Inc., and the Holy Family Memorial Hospital Pharmacy.

Buretta, Debot, Gagnon, and Eggert died of mixed drug toxicity, which included narcotics prescribed by Dr. Szyman and filled by Holy Family Memorial Hospital Pharmacy, according to the document.

The suit claims Szyman’s practice of prescribing narcotic pain killers led to addiction and death of the former patients.

“Over the course of more than a decade, Dr. Charles Szyman began engaging in the practice of prescribing narcotic pain medication to patients at a level far beyond any medically legitimate, reasonable, or recognized level with said practice falling outside the standard of care which any reasonable doctor would exercise under the same or similar circumstances,” reads the complaint.

The suit also claims he was aware that his prescriptions were being sold by his patients to drug addicts.

It also claims that the hospital pharmacists were aware there was no legitimate need for the high dosage of painkillers yet “they took no steps to stop the practice.”

Target 2 Investigates has been reporting on Dr. Szyman’s case since last November.

He’s charged with 19 federal drug charges to which he has pleaded “not guilty.” Each charge carries up to 20 years in prison if he’s convicted.

A federal grand jury returned an indictment saying Szyman “knowingly and unlawfully distributed a controlled substance outside of his professional practice, and not for legitimate medical purpose.”

According to a document filed with the State of Wisconsin, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Office sent undercover agents to Szyman’s office at Holy Family Memorial in Manitowoc. The undercover agents, posing as patients, said they would tell the doctor they were not in any pain, but would still leave with prescriptions for Percocet and Oxycodone — sometimes with refills for months in advance.

Each of the 19 charges stems from appointments from 2012 to 2015 when large amounts of opiates were prescribed to patients.

At one of those appointments, a patient walked out the door with prescriptions for nearly 4,000 pills. Count 14 of the indictment shows “Patient E” was prescribed thousands of pills on June 23, 2014, including Fentanyl patches, Morphine sulfate, and Oxycodone.

The Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Office told Action 2 News those prescriptions were all filled, but not always on the same day. Some of them could’ve been post-dated, which means a patient couldn’t receive them all at once. But since they were all filled, that means those pills were out in the community.

In an affidavit, Lt. Dave Remiker with the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Office’s Metro Drug Unit said he identified five individuals who were patients of Dr. Szyman who died from either overdose or suicide. Lt. Remiker said in the affidavit he spoke to the coroner, who believes on some occasions the medication amounts Dr. Szyman prescribed would be “physically impossible to consume without complete incapacitation or death.”

Following the investigation, Szyman’s medical license was suspended by the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board.

Target 2 Investigates will continue to follow this developing story.