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Lawsuit: Drugged Patient Hit Up For Donations

August 9, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Medical Ethics, Neuroradiology
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A lawsuit accuses a prominent Los Angeles psychiatrist of enticing $490,000 in research funding for an ultrasound device from a patient under the influence of powerful psychotropic drugs that eventually killed her.

Former model and philanthropist Phyllis Harvey died last year at age 59. Now her widower, Brian Harvey, has filed a lawsuit accusing psychiatrist Alexander Bystritsky, MD, PhD, of causing Phyllis Harvey’s death by prescribing a dangerous combination of drugs that affected her heart rhythm. The lawsuit claims wrongful death due to medical negligence as well as fraud, fraudulent concealment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

A complaint filed with the Medical Board of California last November on behalf of Brian Harvey said that in the two months before she died, Phyllis Harvey was receiving nine different drugs, including benzodiazepine sedatives, the schizophrenia drug Invega, and the antipsychotic drug Seroquel.

Lawyers for for Brian Harvey say Seroquel, which is known to affect heart rhythm, killed Phyllis Harvey. She died in her bed on April 5, 2011.

Donald M. Hodes, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Brian Harvey, said Phyllis Harvey was hospitalized several times for heart abnormalities associated with some of the drugs she was taking. Each time, he said, emergency department doctors discontinued her medications, but Dr. Bystritsky reinstated them after she was discharged.

Said James Walter, PhD, professor of bioethics at The Bioethics Institute at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles:

Was he continuing to treat her with these high-powered drugs to keep her as a patient? Every bioethicist would say that practice should be discouraged.

Yeah. I don’t think we need a bioethicist to tell us that the practice of drugging people in order to keep them as patients should be discouraged. Dr. Walter was quoted in an Associated Press story.

The medical board complaint said that Phyllis Harvey was tentatively diagnosed as suffering from bipolar disorder, early dementia, or schizophrenia, but that none of those diagnoses was ever confirmed. The lawsuit said Dr. Bystritsky told Harvey that he might be able to cure her with a device he had invented, but that he needed money to continue his research. The lawsuit said Harvey donated $490,000.

The AP reported that Dr. Bystritsky, who heads the anxiety disorders program at UCLA, was a partner in a privately held company called Brainsonix. The company is collaborating with UCLA and Harvard Medical School on an ultrasound device designed to modulate brain function and treat brain disorders.

Related seminar: UCSF Neuro and Musculoskeletal Imaging

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