Family faults doctor for man's suicide

A Fort Lauderdale doctor who advertises as both a pain and addiction specialist is facing a wrongful death lawsuit from the family of a former patient who allegedly became addicted to drugs while under the doctor's care before committing suicide.

The lawsuit, filed Dec. 22 in Broward County Circuit Court, says Dr. Michael Lazzopina turned Benjamin Eiseman into a drug addict through a regular regimen of addictive painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs between 2005 and July 2008, when the 30-year-old Coral Springs electrician killed himself with an overdose of pills prescribed from the pain clinic where Lazzopina works.

Lazzopina first treated Eiseman for back pain, and prescribed the painkiller oxycodone months before receiving MRI results confirming an injury, the suit says. The suit also says Lazzopina failed to reduce the oxycodone dosage after Eiseman's back ailment improved, and ''never referred Benjamin Eiseman to a drug addiction specialist.''

Lazzopina, 85, specializes in urology, according to the Florida Department of Health. But in newspaper advertisements, he offers detoxification treatment for drug addicts and pain-management treatment. Lazzopina's attorney, Sandy Topkin, said the doctor is board-certified in pain management, and the doctor is approved by the federal government to dispense special narcotics to treat addiction.

Lazzopina works part time as a contract employee at the Fort Lauderdale Pain Relief Center, a clinic at 201 W. Oakland Park Blvd. According to the suit, Lazzopina treats as many as 44 patients a day at the clinic, where the doctor receives a fee for every patient he sees. Topkin said neither the doctor nor the clinic did anything wrong. The lawyer said Eiseman was ''doctor shopping, '' seeking pills from other doctors, and that Eiseman was abusing illegal drugs, which were found in his system when he died.

Eiseman killed himself only days after his wife had kicked him out of the house - suggesting domestic strife pushed him to suicide, not addiction, Topkin said.

Eiseman's widow, Paulette, declined to comment. The Fort Lauderdale Pain Relief Center is owned by Integra Health Services, a company founded by chiropractors Michael Rechter and David Romano. Records show the pair also created an MRI facility last year in eastern Kentucky - a hotbed of illegal trafficking of painkillers from South Florida pain clinics.

Topkin said the Fort Lauderdale clinic does not accept MRI tests from the owners' Kentucky facility, or from any other out-ofstate providers. In an effort to weed out ''doctor shopping'' addicts seeking unjustified prescriptions, the clinic also refuses to accept out-of-state patients, and requires patients to sign a ''pain contract'' swearing not to seek pills from other doctors, the lawyer said. ''They do everything strictly by the book, '' Topkin said.

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